Upper Ottawa River--Thorne/Temiscaming/Mattawa/Deux Rivieres/Driftwood/Deep River

CanadaOntarioOttawa
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
PedlPadl
Trip Date : 
2019-07-21
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
170 km
Duration: 
6 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
2
Total Portage Distance: 
4500 m
Longest Portage: 
3000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Novice
Lake Travel: 
Novice
Portaging: 
Easy
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Medium
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Public boat ramp at the south end of Long Sault Island, Thorne ON/Temiscaming QC.

Technical Guide: 

This is a scenic and historically significant route that could be divided or extended into several different trips of varying length. It is all flat water, basically like a big, long lake, but can get choppy when it's windy. Portages are easy and there's access to amenities at points along the way.

 

Finding good information was a bit difficult, this is what I came up with but if anyone knows more, please jump in. Kevin Callan covers part of the route in his book Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario [1. References are in the "Relevant Links" section below.] which is a good resource from Mattawa downstream. However, the uppermost section is not well documented. Callan describes some of it in some videos and a blog he posted but I could not find any maps. A potential source of information was the Algonquin Canoe Company (ACC) [2] based on Long Sault Island in Thorne who had maintained some campsites along the route in the past. They were very friendly and helpful but not the encyclopaedia of local knowledge I had hoped for. I ended up going into their store the day I arrived and eventually got a photocopy of a map with their notes on it which was very helpful the first day but did not extend beyond that. I won't post their map but will post my own map with any information I was able to verify. ACC also have canoe rentals, some supplies, an interesting souvenir shop and may be able to provide parking or a shuttle (I just got dropped off and did not return there).

 

The information and maps I am posting are my personal observations from one trip and my research to prepare for it to the best of my knowledge but I make no guarantees as to the accuracy of anything.

 

Camp sites are sparse in some sections, there are private properties here and there, and it is a large body of water so just paddling along looking for something is difficult if you don't know where to look. The terrain is generally steep and rocky and heavily treed so there are few suitable spots.

 

Wherever you camp, bear in mind the water levels can change by a few feet overnight if adjustments are made at the dams. There is also poison ivy on some sites. I could only find a suitable branch to hang the food pack at one site; I just sealed it in the hatch of the kayak at the others. With a canoe, a food barrel might be advisable.

 

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) used to publish a brochure with information on the dam bypass routes but they don't seem to any more. When I contacted them, I received an automated reply that they would respond as soon as they can but 4 weeks later I have no response yet.

 

I carried the Small Craft Charts [3] which are very good although perhaps more detailed than necessary but at the same time they are missing a couple of things (upstream boat ramp at Des Joachims and ramp at Deux Rivieres). There is a companion guide, Sailing Directions [4] that has some descriptions and aerial photos of the boat ramps that is slightly helpful for background but out of date.

 

Topographic maps [5] are awkward because the river crosses several sheets but they can be viewed on line and were helpful while preparing.

 

It's not too easy to get lost but it is a long distance and my old GPS was useful for taking a position now and then.

 

I did not monitor my cell phone closely but I think I had signal about 5 km from Thorne, then it faded away until approaching Snake Creek. After that I had a good signal everywhere I checked.

 

I cannot seem to make much use of the myccr gallery so I have posted my photos and maps on my Google Photo space with links below. The maps are divided into one for each day of my trip.

 

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

All distances are approximate and can vary depending on how closely you follow the shoreline.

 

The scenery is mostly forest and rock with impressive rock faces protruding here and there and occasional streams and weed beds. There are numerous tributaries, bays and islands that one could spend a lot of time exploring. Most of the section from Long Sault Island to Des Joachims has sparse cottages and feels quite secluded and could have been a lake in Algonquin Park except for the few settlements. The highway is close by in some places and can often vaguely be heard but was not disturbing at any of the camps. The trains only run occasionally from Mattawa to Temiscaming; downstream of Mattawa the tracks have been removed. I only saw a few motor boats until approaching Driftwood and even after that only two or three fishing along the way to Des Joachims. The next section after that was busier but still not bad. I met one other group of paddlers between Klock and Deux Rivieres just out for a couple of nights.

 

 

Day 1:

Started at Long Sault Island between Thorne ON and Temiscaming QC where the Timiskaming Dam defines the present-day end of Lake Temiskaming and start of the Ottawa River (note 3 different spellings of Teimiskcaming just to give confusing search results).

 

Put-in is the boat ramp at the south end of Long Sault Island (Photo 1). Current from the dam tailraces soon declines. Highway 63 parallels the river for 5 km then turns inland and it gets much quieter (the noise and smell from the Tembec plant at Temiscaming also disappear). The highway was not busy even on a July weekend but on Tuesday at Mattawa, I saw a number of logging trucks heading up and down highway 533 so it may be much worse during the week (and would also make the drive up on the winding 533 more nerve-wracking).

 

There is supposed to be a campsite about 5 km downstream on the left and a few more at 11 km at Beauchene Bay but I did not verify these. Beyond that, the next one I'm aware of is another 4 km down on a small island on the right. There seems to be another 800m farther down, on a peninsula also on the right. One was marked with an old, faded sign that resembled ones I found accompanying new ACC signs later but it was not on their map. They looked like okay camps, a little rocky and exposed. 2 km farther down on the right there is a large private chalet on a point of the mouth of a bay where the creek from Langevin Lake enters the Ottawa River (cannot find a name on this creek on any map). Around the point and up the bay near the mouth of the creek is a sand spit with a nice, large campsite (Photo 2). There is no outhouse but there is a metal fire pit and table. It is marked on ACC's map but there were no signs on the site. There is an ATV road at the back and there were a few cans but it was mostly quite clean. I did find a piece of broken glass on the beach and there was pile in the trees marked with an orange cone. After checking out Jocko River downstream, I backtracked here for the first night.

 

The next site is 2 km farther downstream at Jocko River (Photo 3). Again there is a large private cottage with a dock at the point but up the bay a short distance there is a campsite on the east side. It didn't look great but it would still do for a night. Again there is an ATV road. It was not marked on ACC's map, nor were there any signs.

 

500m downstream of Jocko River there is an ACC sign on a tree and the note on their map said it needs work. It looked like a fire pit had been attempted on a ledge but there is no way it could ever be a camp site (Photo 4).

 

ACC's map shows two more sites 6 km farther downstream on the right but I did not verify this.

 

Day 2:

The next camp I could locate was 22 km downstream of Jocko River on the left at Snake Creek (Photo 6). 400m upstream of the mouth of the creek is an ACC sign on a tree but again there is not, was not and never will be a campsite on the steep rocks (Photo 5). The creek mouth has some wharfs set up by local lodges and clubs and there is road access (I'm sure the same white truck in Callan's video was still there, but it did drive away and come back so it is running again). There is an assortment of vehicles and some old oil tanks (once used for floats I assume) and it's a bit of a junkyard actually (Photo 7). But the campsite a few metres away was in very good shape and there is a bit of sand and some smooth rocks that make a decent take-out (Photo 8). As far as I can find out, that is the one and only site between Jocko River and well beyond Mattawa. Smith's Landing and Wilson's Landing across the river have roads but I was told the properties are all private.

 

4 km downstream on the right is the mouth of Bangs Bay and there is a place called Nature's Harmony Eco-lodge a couple of km up a path and road which is something like 2 km up the bay on the north side. They have cabins but also (new for 2019 according to their website) tent camping and I would seriously look into staying there if I did this again.

 

Day 3:

From Snake Creek it's 9 km to the take-out above the Otto Holden dam. The take-out is the old Temiskawa [6] ramp; it’s on the right and the signs are kind of tucked in the trees and not visible until you're quite close (Photo 9, 10). The portage signs and route are well-maintained but there are no facilities of any kind. A box that used to contain portage information pamphlets has obviously not been used for years. (Photo 11). The construction contact sign is a bit confusing; this is not an island so I assume “construction island” means the construction site itself which is inside a gate near the dam and not on the road and I don’t know who would go there unless they had business in there and I don’t know who would be arriving by boat in that case but I guess they have to put up a sign at all access points. Since there is no way of knowing any of this beforehand and once you’re there there's no where else to go, I ignored the construction contact duct-taped phone number and just followed the portage signs. The “Extreme Danger” is inside the fence where the dam and wires are, not on the portage. Other than a few workers’ parked vehicles on the side of the road, the portage was clear. The portage begins on paved road with an uphill climb, then goes onto a small road/trail and is mostly downhill. The very end has a few metres of cobbles to get over to reach the water (Photo 12, 13, 14, 15). My cart was ideal for this and made for an easy portage of about 1.5 km.

 

300m downstream of the put-in is the Temiskawa [6] lower ramp (Photo 16). There was some construction work in progress but nobody there. There was an outhouse that was a bit overgrown and did not look like it was being maintained but not in bad shape. There are no longer any signs and I don't know if this is still open to the public. If you're going upstream, ignore the ramp and continue up to the big portage sign.

 

About 1.5-2 km downstream of the dam is Antoine Park. They have a little information on line and a phone number but I did not contact them. There were a number of trailers there when I went past. It’s about 6 km upstream of Mattawa and might be an option for camping.

 

From the put-in it's 7 km to Explorer’s Point in Mattawa (Photo 17). I beached the boat there and walked 900m or so up to the Tourist Information office near the traffic circle and used their washroom (I could not figure out the status of the marina washrooms as there was still work being done to repair damage from the spring floods). There is also the Lion’s park 1.5 km downstream. There are things to see and do in Mattawa if you have time but I’m not sure what’s available for public camping near Mattawa, other than possibly Antoine Park (there are motels though).

 

Leaving Mattawa, pass by the mouth of the Mattawa River and under the train bridge; I had no trouble getting through the first span although the main channel is out in the middle. There is some current under the bridge. Below Mattawa the river quickly becomes quite secluded again with occasional cottages and I only saw a couple of boats out fishing.

 

Next stop was 12 km downstream on the left at the mouth of Edwards River where there is a smaller sheltered camp site and a larger more open one (Photo 18). Both were in good shape and there is a trail back to a scenic waterfall (Photo 19). These seem to be the closest sites downstream of Mattawa.

 

Day 4:

There is another site 5 km farther downstream on the right. 1.5 km beyond that, Klock road meets the river. There is a dock there, not clear if it's private. Next to it is the mouth of Aumond Creek where there is a campsite on the east bank (Photo 20, 21). An ATV trail goes up to the rail bed and across the bridge, someone has built a fire pit in the middle of the road so I guess camping is allowed there but it's a bit far from the river.

 

7 km farther downstream on the right there is a camp site, just upstream of where the Hodgson railway point used to be. I met a group of canoes who had just camped there and said they had fixed it up a bit and it was good. At the railway just behind, the rails and ties have all been removed so trains would not be a concern, although ATVs may use the old railbed (Photo 22).

 

There are supposed to be a few more sites on the left before reaching Deux Rivieres and I might have seen something on the right around Gibson Creek but I did not verify their locations.

 

At Deux Rivieres there is a public boat launch with an outhouse and picnic tables but no overnight camping. If you stay to the right approaching Deux Rivieres, there is a gap between the shore and the first small island where the bridge or causeway to the old ferry road has been removed and the boat launch is straight ahead through the gap (Photo 23, 24). The main channel required for large boats goes around the big island. The ramp is not shown on the Chart although it's mentioned in the Sailing Directions. Other than that and Antler's Kingfisher Lodge, there is not much at Deux Rivieres; the gas station and store are long closed and the Hilltop Cottages and Campground that Callan and the Sailing Directions mention changed owners and the number I eventually tracked down was out of service. The old ferry ramp on the Ontario side has fire pits where people have obviously been camping and there are no signs to the contrary but I don't know if it's legal (Photo 25).

 

After exploring the old ferry stations (Photo 26), I proceeded about 8 km downstream to a campsite at Moose Bay (Photo 27). It was a bit hard to spot, above the river a few metres overgrown with moss and a dead tree fallen across it which was small and rotten enough I cleaned it up with my collapsible saw. The site is rocky and there are holes in between some of them to watch out for which should presently be visible because I'm sure I stepped in every one of them. The take-out is a bit steep and rocky but there was a flat enough area for a tent or two and the view was nice (Photo 28, 29). I propped up a couple of rotten boards that were lying around to make it a little more visible.

 

There are a few more camp sites a few km downstream but I did not check them.

 

Day 5:

Next day was 34 km to Driftwood Provincial Park, an excellent park with luxuries like picnic tables, flush toilets and running water (Photo 31). Along the way is Bissett Bay (14 km from Moose Bay) where Bissett Creek meets the Ottawa River. Although there are many cottages, I cannot identify a boat ramp or public access and I ended up stopped on the highway embankment for a break. 4 km before reaching the boundary of Driftwood is Stonecliffe where there is a boat launch (Photo 30). There are no facilities or camping but a 750m walk up the road is Yates General Store which is the last chance for supplies if you need anything before Des Joachims (Driftwood office only has a few things). Yates has a ton of stuff in that small store and I grabbed some orange juice (can't do that on every canoe trip).

 

Day 6:

4.5 km past Driftwood there is a park on a point at Mackey with steps down to the water and the township website says washrooms but I have not been there. There is a boat launch but it is a few km up Mackey Creek at the highway and not a very convenient stopping place.

 

From Driftwood it's 12 km to the Des Joachims dam. The take-out is on the north-east end of the south channel. I have marked it on my map but I have never seen it shown accurately on any other map (including the chart, topo or anything on line). It is shown on the Rapides des Joachims carte-sentier [7], a map of trails published by the municipality, but that does not clearly show the road and portage. After reaching Chemin du Moulin the portage seems to follow trail #10 on that map. Again, the ramp is tucked in the trees and hard to see until you're close. The signs were propped up in the trees and the flagpoles were bare and overgrown by tree branches but the brush was cleared and the borrowed McDonalds garbage can was clean (Photo 32, 33). There were a few fire pits around the landing and no signs about camping or anything else but I don't know if overnight camping is allowed. There are some organized places on the island and ACC has an office there also but I didn't research them.

 

The portage begins on a gravel road then turns onto an ATV road then a bumpy path (Photo 34, 35, 36). It's fine for a carry portage but if using a cart, don't follow the portage; just turn right on Ch. du Moulin, then left on Rue Principale and follow it down to the bottom (Map 6a).

 

The Ontario side is much more developed along the next section but there is little on the Quebec side. There are numerous beaches.

 

6 km below the dam on the right there is a picnic area at Meilleurs Bay with tables and outhouses. Another 8 km from there is Burkes Beach at Pt. Alexander which appeared to have an outhouse.

 

Deep River is 20 km from the dam and was the end of the trip for me at the public boat ramp just downstream of the marina docks.

 

Conclusions and recommendations:

 

Excellent trip. I used a 13 ft touring kayak and a cart for the portages and it worked extremely well. The only real camp site concern I had was the second night at Snake Creek where there are no other alternatives that I could find.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
Canadian Topographic Maps, 031L & 031K.
Other Maps: 
Small Craft Chart #1553, 1554 & 1555, published by the Canadian Hydrographic Service department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ottawa, Canada.

Comments

Post date: Mon, 08/12/2019 - 10:14

Comments: 

Thank you so much for the post, maps, photos and links. I am planning to do the last leg of this trip in a few weekd (Mattawa down). I have also used K. Callans book to research the trip - your imput is much appreciate as there is very little info about this portion of the Ottawa available.

In fact, there is very little info on paddling the Ottawa and I should post the information I have gathered for the lower portion - Rapides-des-Joachims (Swisha) down to the Ottawa-Gatineau. I worked on a paddle route for this portion and thus have a lot of data and first hand knowledge. There are so lovely portions of this river. Swisha to Pettawawa being one of the best. Maintained sandy points (Frasers Landing being the best - near Point Alexander) and beaches every 10km or so. Oiseau Rock with its red ochre paintings and hiking trail. Stop at Fort-William for fish and chips and a beer!

Cheers!

P.s Hopefully I'll be commenting again afte my trip!