Petawawa River Loop - Algonquin Park

Paddling on the Petawawa River 

When original white-water plans were canceled last-minute, we had an open weekend to fill. It was Thursday night and with no plans we started skimming through maps and trip reports. After reviewing Jeff’s Maps, we decided on heading to the Magnetawan Access Point for a trip down the Petawawa River. We would plan on paddling down the Petawawa before heading North into Queer Lake, then we would make our way back through Ralph Bice back to the access point.

SNAPSHOT:

  • Total Distance: 29 km
  • Portages: 10
  • Route Difficulty: Novice – Intermediate
  • Number of Days: 2
  • Access Point: Magnetewan Access Point
  • Resources: Jeff’s Algonquin Map
  • Key Features: Small lakes and shallow meandering river connected by easily navigable portages.
     

Getting There:

We left Toronto on Friday after work and made our way up to the small town of Kearney. Kearney is the starting gate for Algonquin’s Tim River, Magnetawan River and Rain Lake Access Points. We arrived in town at around 10:00 pm and spent the night in our car in the Algonquin Office parking lot.

The next morning we purchased our permits at 7:00 am and made the 30-minute drive down dirt roads to the #3 Access Point. Along our drive we discussed our game plan, route and expectations.  We heard from friends that bugs were going to be bad, but that wasn’t something we thought much about. We were more concerned about how the fishing was going to be and what lures we should use.

Magnetawan Lake to Upper Petawawa:

On the Petawawa River right after the portage from Daisy Lake

We spent the morning paddling through the small lakes and portages as we made our way to the Petawawa River. Hambone Lake and Daisy Lake were moderate sized lakes and had very nice, clean campsites that would make a great trip for a quick weekend getaway.

Daisy Lake was the final stop before reaching the Petawawa. At the end of the Lake there was a brief 135 m portage which brought us around a shallow creek and cascading waterfall. The waterfall is a scenic spot as the water is pushed into a deep pool with the Petawawa as the backdrop. After paddling for a couple hours, with the sun and bugs becoming stronger, this was the perfect spot for a quick pit-stop as we refueled with some beef jerky and libations.

Petawawa River to Little Misty Lake:

The Upper Petawawa is not what you think of when you hear the name. The white-water enthusiast won’t be found for another 100 km or so. Up here, the Petawawa is a meandering flood plain with beaver dams and wetlands. During early June, water levels ranged from 1 to 2 feet with shallower sections present. During late-summer, sections of this route may require some slogging so it would be important to check water-levels before hand. We paddled the river for 5 km before reaching Little Misty Lake at 3:00 pm.

Little Misty Lake has one campsite on the North shore which looked to be in very good condition. The overall quality of the lake and surrounding landscape was also breathtaking and in other circumstances it would have been great to camp there. Unfortunately for us, our time here was brief as we were heading off the lake and heading North towards Queer lake via the 2.5 km portage.

Little Misty Lake to Little Trout Lake:

The portage from Little Misty Lake to Queer Lake is unquestionably long but is overall friendly. The trail is flat and clear of obstructions other than some muddy sections. We completed the portage in 45 minutes and if it weren’t for the horrendous bugs, we would have found it easier than anticipated.
 
Once on Queer Lake, we paddled another 2 km to Little Trout Lake where we planned on spending the night. Along the route we did not see any other canoeists and even got a quick glimpse of a Moose.

Little Trout Lake (campsite):

 One of the island sites on Little Trout Lake

One of the island sites on Little Trout Lake

As our paddling day was coming to an end, it seemed as the farther we got into our route, the thicker the bugs were getting. By the time we reached Little Trout Lake, the bugs were so thick that we weren’t able to take our bug nets off without inhaling a dozen blackflies. The bugs were swarming us so badly that they sounded like rain hitting a tarp. The tough part was that these guys weren’t just lurking the shadows of the portages, these bugs were just as bad in the middle of the lake.

We reached our island campsite on Little Trout by 5:00 and were physically and mentally exhausted from the days portages and constant bugs. As soon as we got to site we poured ourselves a couple glasses of wine and shared a cigar.

The late-afternoon sun filtered through the pines forming beams of light on our camp. The blue smoke from the cigar peeled off like a ribbon as it sat motionless in the air with the thousands of blackflies that surrounded us. Sitting on a rotten log, wearing our sweat and blood-stained jackets, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace knowing this was one of those moments I will remember for a long-time.

After gathering ourselves, we headed back out on the water for an evening of fishing. Although still being pounded by bugs, we enjoyed the perfect weather and had a few laughs as we trolled for some trout.  After an hour we managed to catch a couple nice sized brook trout that we would take back to camp with us for a dinner.

Little Trout Lake back to Magnetawan Lake:

Dangling some trout caught on our way out on Ralph Bice Lake

The next day we woke to overcast condition with rain in the forecast. Armed with proper rain gear, we were not too concerned about weather as we spent the morning around camp, drinking coffee and enjoying the fire. We left site at 10:30 and started our 8 km paddle back to the access point. Along the way we spent time fishing on Ralph Bice where we managed to catch a few feisty lake trout.  We reached the access point at 3:00 and were back in the city by 7:00 pm.

Summary:

Overall this route is a great option for a one-night trip. The route boasts Algonquin’s signature landscape and is also a loop, and who doesn’t like a good loop trip? The challenging aspects of the route include numerous portages including one that is 2.5 km, as well as the possibility of running out of water on the Petawawa. We highly recommend this route to any avid canoeist looking for a weekend getaway.