Big Creek National Wildlife Area, Port Rowan

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Trip Rating: 4.5/5

Big Creek National Wildlife Area is awe inspiring. The marsh and creek are massive and could take you weeks if not months to fully explore. The more I get into these trips, the more I realize, scenery doesn’t always have to be Rocky Mountains or tropical paradises to be beautiful. The trip is separated into two regions from where I launched: The first piece is the marsh. There is an expansive network of creeks cutting through the area, so be careful, getting lost is a real possibility. For this trip, I followed the large creek into the mouth of the Big Creek.  Big Creek starts with tall Carolinian trees lining the banks of the creek; you can see a dramatic change in the scenery almost immediately. You can then paddle through dense deciduous forest for hours without having to portage or risk bottoming out. I went in late July and the creek was deep for the entire trip.

Launch Sites:

Finding a place to park was a real issue for this spot. You can’t park on conservation land, and the surrounding land is privately owned. Fortunately, I found a small private launch that offered parking, washrooms and snacks for $10 per day. To find it, enter 1002 George Ln, Port Rowan, ON N0E 1M0, Canada into Google Maps.

There is no dock for launching. Parking is right beside a small boat launch. There is a place to rent canoes and kayaks in the shop.


Trip Length: To see the entire creek and marsh, it would take days. The trip posted here took me approximately 2.5 hours. Plan for longer, depending on the weather.


Cost: $10 per car.

Difficulty: Class A1. Please be careful and use gear as required to be safe.


“Big Creek NWA is located on the north shore of Lake Erie, 3 kilometers (km) southwest of Port Rowan, Ontario. It is home to a wealth of wildlife, including birds, frogs, turtles, amphibians, insects and many other species, all of which rely on wetland habitats. The extensive marshes at the mouth of Big Creek are remarkably undisturbed compared to other Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Located at the base of the Long Point peninsula, the Big Creek NWA marshes are a major staging area for waterfowl and more than 200 bird species use the area during their spring and fall migrations.

Big Creek NWA is 802 hectares (ha) and consists of two units- Big Creek Unit (639 ha) and the Hahn Marsh Unit (163 ha). The wetlands of the Big Creek NWA located along the north shore of Lake Erie, at the base of the Long Point peninsula, are part of the largest sandspit-marsh complex of the Great Lakes. Internationally recognized for its extraordinary ecological and social value, Big Creek NWA is recognized as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention and designated as a provincially significant wetland by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The NWA is part of the Long Point Peninsula and Marshes Important Bird Area and the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve buffer zone.

Every spring and fall, tens of thousands of watefowl visit the Long Point region during annual migration. Up to 100,000 waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans) may be found resting and feeding at Long Point and its marshes during the peak of fall migration. Over 200 species of birds have been observed at the Big Creek NWA, and more than 80 of those species breed at the NWA. Big Creek NWA also shelters a number of species at risk, including the endangered King Rail, Prothonotary Warbler; the threatened Least Bittern, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hognose Snake, and Fowler’s Toad; as well as species of special concern such as the Red-headed Woodpecker, Short-eared Owl, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Milksnake, Monarch Butterfly, and Swamp Rose Mallow. Seasonal highlights within the NWA include waterfowl migration (spring and fall), turtle nesting (June), and Monarch migration (August and September).

The water levels within some sections of the wetlands at Big Creek are artificially controlled using an impoundment technique. A system of pumps and dykes mimics the natural rise and fall of water levels that trigger a diversity of plant growth. As a result, a greater diversity of wildlife is able to survive and thrive. The practice of controlling water levels can also be helpful in controlling the growth and spread of invasive plant species, including the non-native invasive European Common Reed (Phragmites australis) often referred to as non-native Phragmites. The water-level variation has vastly improved the habitats at Big Creek NWA.

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