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Steel River Loop Maps Repost
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Author:  Brad Thomas [ August 6th, 2017, 8:41 am ]
Post subject:  Steel River Loop Maps Repost

I just completed the Steel River Loop from Santoy Lake and up through the Diablo Portage.

There have been many excellent trip reports of this route here already. I don’t have much more to add, but I will add a little below.

The primary reason I’m posting is that the maps previously posted by Rob Haslam ( and at are no longer readily available thanks to photobucket.

I downloaded his maps a few years ago. Before my trip I added some information to them from Kevin Callan’s route description. When I got back I added a bit more information.

Rob’s maps (with his commentary regarding the portages/etc.) can be accessed via the link below, at least until Google Drive stops allowing public access or Rob or True_North or Kevin Callan object:

When Rob originally posted them, they were arranged for a trip from the north end. When I marked them up, I arranged them from the south end. A sample page is included at the end of this post.

It’s a PDF file with 22 pages in total. Somehow I missed getting the map just as the route enters Santoy Lake from the north, so that map (page 22) came from True_North’s route description, which I highly recommend reading starting here:

And here’s another report:

Here are a few additional comments based on my observations on the route:

-There is a good campsite on Santoy Lake RR just where the river exits Santoy Lake over a waterfall. There are numerous areas to camp at the south end of Santoy (parking lot, beach just around the corner from the parking lot, seemingly-abandoned camp on the east side of the lake about 4 km up the lake…), but you might consider the falls-adjacent campsite for a first (or last) night’s stay. It’s on a gravel beach with good western exposure.

-The Diablo portage is pretty bad. It took me three hours to get through solo. One of the good things about a solo boat on a portage like that is the ability to change the location of the yoke so that the boat tilts upright.

-The first portage out of Diablo Lake is also pretty bad. At one point about 75% of the way through the trail splits into two options. One goes left through a kind of mini rocky ravine similar to the end of the Diablo Portage. Another goes towards the right through an area with better footing. They both meet up again later.

-Rob Haslam suggests that campsite SP10 on Cairngorm Lake is one of the best on the trip. When I was through the campsite on Steel Lake (SC13) or the one on McKernan (SC3) would have been better for rest days.

-True_North mentioned that there was potential for camping at the end of SP13 near the waterfall, but I would have been disappointed if I had planned to camp here. It’s a pretty area but fairly marshy nearby and I didn’t see any obvious camping area.

-Kevin Callan described Esker Lake (Moose Lake) as having beaches on the north end. There were no beaches at all on Esker and it looked bad for camping. It’s a pretty lake with cliffs. There is now a massive beaver dam just before the bridge on the stream leading out of the lake; this probably obliterated any beaches that were previously there.

-SP14 (where the road crosses after Esker Lake) is becoming a pretty rough portage on the west side of the road and fairly hard to follow. It might be necessary to expect to spend some time clearing parts of this portage.

-SP17 at the north end of the loop is the third of the top-three bad portages on this trip. (The other two being Diablo and the first portage out of Diablo Lake.) It feels like it goes on forever, there are wash-outs as others have mentioned, it is very hilly, and there are certain areas where getting a canoe through is very difficult due to tree growth. It might be necessary to expect to spend some time clearing parts of this portage too. (And would be smart to arrive well-hydrated and not exhausted as I wasn’t…)

-In one of his reports on this route, Rob Haslam indicated that he preferred to stay at the island site on Punchard Lake (about 5 km north of Rainbow Falls) because it’s less used and has better water access. The campsite at Rainbow Falls does indeed have fairly poor water access. There’s a trail from the campsite down to a little stream where there’s water, but really the site is fairly isolated from the water. If I was through again, I’d consider staying on Punchard Lake, as Rob suggested. When I was through this time, I met a couple on Punchard Lake. (Justin Punchard and a companion). They had driven up DeadHorse Road to the part of it that ends near Punchard Lake, then bush-crashed a fishing boat into Punchard Lake with the intention of staying on the lake for about five days. They described moving the boat in through a logging area as being very difficult! They were shocked to see anyone (me) on the lake. Apparently they were visiting it because the lake was named after Justin’s grandfather after he served in WWII.

-Some have suggested that a long day is necessary from Rainbow Falls to Santoy Lake due to a lack of campsites on the river in this area. That may be the case early in the year, but with lower water levels there were dozens of potential camp sites on many of the sandy bends riverside all way down south of the Deadhorse Bridge. If you’re going later in the year there’s no need to plan for a long and difficult day in this area.

I hope that you consider making this trip; it’s a great one!

Below is an example of one of the pages from the PDF file linked above. It’s basically Rob’s map, with his commentary, with some additional information from Kevin Callan, along with a photo from my trip. The PDF version is higher quality since we are limited here to posting photos that are 800 pixels long.

Author:  Jonathan Kelly [ August 7th, 2017, 11:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Hey Brad, really enjoyed your account of this as I just did the route solo from July 7 to Jul 18 (I took my time fishing in the lakes section). Agree with all of your comments.

All I had was Kevin Callan's map from Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes which is a bit outdated at this point given some changes (e.g. logjams on the river), along with the NTS topo map. I wish I had looked for some of this info beforehand as it would've saved me some headaches.

The Diablo portage was tough. I found the ravine section worse than the initial incline because it was so overgrown with ferns that I couldn't see my footing, and as I'm sure you know, the ravine is full of ankle-busters and pits 2+ feet deep.

The portage after Esker Lake was on RL rather than RR as indicated in the guidebook. I found it hard to find and follow as well because it's so overgrown.

Below Rainbow Falls, I found almost all of the portages to be MUCH longer than indicated in the guidebook (probably double). Perhaps the logjams have gotten longer.

Above all else, I scrambled up a ridiculous vertical bank of mud (I think it was the 170m on Kevin Callan's map) where there was a portage marker, only to discover two far, far, far easier take-outs slightly downriver that connected with the portage. If anyone is reading this who intends to do the trip, PADDLE PAST THIS MARKER ON RIVER-LEFT!

I had to triple-carry due to all my camera and fishing gear, so I really tried my best to clear the portages on my return trips. They were very clogged up---more so with branches, saplings, and ferns than big deadfall. The difficulty of the portages was also greatly exacerbated by peak bug season. If I ever do this route again, I will definitely wait until black fly season is done (I thought it would've been in mid-July!) so at least that'll be one bug out of the mix.

I've posted a series of videos of the trip (link to the first one below). If you have any more pictures or videos, I'd love to see them.


Author:  Brad Thomas [ August 7th, 2017, 12:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Jonathan, if you get a chance, read True_North's report. It's excellent and talks a lot about discrepancies between the older Callan description of the route and Rob Haslam's more recent maps. It also provides links to some historical route documents and shows the extent of the forest fire in the area, etc. It's well done.


Author:  RHaslam [ August 7th, 2017, 12:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Nice job on the maps Brad, they look fantastic!

Just a couple of general notes....Kevin's info is quite dated now, and although basically correct, forest fires have changed some of portages. The port around the bridge after Moose Lake used to be river right. When the fire burned through and they built the bridge, the port was obliterated. The one on river left that we cut was always a bit of a goat trail.

Take all info on the log jams with a grain of salt, as they are constantly changing. The signs I hung several years ago are often a few hundred meters from the start of the port now. Feel free to reposition them if so inclined. One of the log jams I signed was completely gone the last time I went through.

We might have a clearing party forming up for next summer. The last time I cleared the entire loop was 2008, although I did clear the river side in 2010.

Author:  Brad Thomas [ August 9th, 2017, 1:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Jonathan, I watched all the videos in your series over the course of the last couple days! Good job, and nicely edited. It was funny to see all the same things again that I just experienced but filmed a week or two before I was there.

A few comments:

Day 1 of 12 - One of the things I noticed when there was how late it got dark compared to the GTA. I guess it's due to being more west in the same time zone. Santoy Lake was very windy on your way in. It was the same for me, but from the other direction, so better. You need a bug shirt on the portages!

Day 3 - The shots of the bear on shore were great! I saw one on the 7th day on the shore of the river south of Deadhorse Road bridge, but didn't manage to get a photo.

Day 5 - I was surprised by all the boats on Steel Lake too. I read a report called "Steel Lake" from Rob Haslam's 2005 trip report with the kids from his school where they referred to it as "Boat Cache Bay." My understanding is that the MNR isn't doing anything about it.

Day 9 - "I'll approach the waterfall with lots of speed and just go over it." :rofl:

Day 11 - I like your ideas about sock heaven. Costco used to (and might still) sell very good merino wool-blend socks in 3 packs for less than $15.00. There has been talk of them on here in the past. I've found them to be a good winter socks, and great summer canoeing socks. Sucks about having finished your book so early in the trip; you might consider downloading library (or other) books on your phone and bringing extra batteries. Being stuck in a tent windbound without a book to read is a drag. Once I was windbound on a lake in the Aubinadong-Nushatogani Rivers PP for nearly 70 hours - I feel your pain. It really was windy on the day you were on the norht end of Santoy! Too bad it almost never looks as bad in photos or on video.

I hope others watch some (or all) of your videos. They're good!

Author:  Jonathan Kelly [ August 9th, 2017, 4:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Thanks Brad & Rob--if only I had been more thorough with my research. Could've saved some headaches. Appreciate the clearing efforts Rob---hopefully it can be cleared again before long.

Glad you enjoyed the videos Brad, and thanks for your feedback! Definitely lots of daylight up there. I suppose the higher latitude is responsible for that in the summer. I hate being super hot on portages almost as much as the bugs, so I've resisted adding a bug jacket, but I should really think about that decision. Certainly for peak season. Funny you mention the socks because "proper camping socks" went on my shopping list after this trip. I'm wondering if there are any that are breathable and not overly thick, but which somehow stop insects from biting through them...I'd pay top dollar for such a thing.

Author:  Peek [ August 10th, 2017, 7:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Thanks for posting this, really.

I have this loop slated for mid to late summer 2018 and the info in this thread alone is key. I've watched a few videos (Jon's 2017 account (the guy above) and the guys who run the Northern Scavenger channel) key elements can be found in those videos.

Finally, True North's account of the area is among the highest for detail - mostly because of the GPS tracks - they help to take some of the guessing out of this route - so thanks for that, True North.

A question to those who have been there: I understand this is a non-operating park, and my past experience with non-operating parks is that permits are not required. I've looked at the Steel River page of the Ontario Parks website and cannot find any indication of permits being required. Can anyone please confirm? Feel free to toss in any general advice on the area if you have it - I would really appreciate it. Is mid to late summer a silly time to go based on water levels? I was thinking the 2nd week of August and go out for 11 to 12 days.

Thanks again to all those who have contributed to this route and keeping it alive.

Author:  Jonathan Kelly [ August 10th, 2017, 7:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Hey Peek/TOURduPARK,

The Crown Land Use Policy Atlas (CLUPA) report (linked below) doesn't explicitly say anything about permits, but I'm nearly certain that you don't need one. Access on Santoy Lake is free (and good, and the road in isn't bad at all either). ... DENT=P2678

If aren't familiar with CLUPA and want a primer for the future, here's a video I did (not to keep plugging my videos...). ... IjJXg&t=1s

Mid-August would be good in the sense that at least the black flies will be gone. In July it was a bug cocktail---everything. It's not an easy route, and adding thick bugs to the equation isn't ideal. I'd rather do easier trips when the bugs are bad. I don't really sense that water levels would be a problem because the majority of the river was at least 12" deep in mid-July, but if it's a dry summer I could see some of the gravel swifts requiring wading.

If you want to do it in 11-12 days, I would plan on doing it in 10. The wind on the big lakes (Cairngorm, Steel, and Santoy) can easily set you back a day or two. I was unlucky both ways on Santoy, and if the other two had been equally bad, I would've been in a tough spot.

Author:  true_north [ August 10th, 2017, 9:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Peek, you should be fine! Enjoy the trip - it is a fantastic one-week canoe trip that has a little bit of everything. No permits required for a paddler from T.O.!

Author:  Peek [ August 12th, 2017, 10:25 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Thanks Jon, a ton of useful info there. I have used the CLUPA many times but didn't think to check it in this circumstance - duh. Regarding the timing, though I know bugs are a bit worse this year when compared to others, it was the constant buzzing around your head and between the tent body/fly that really made me consider going a bit later. I accept bugs are a reality of the outdoors, but damn man, I don't know how you kept a smile on your face in those conditions! I do worry about the shallows swift's though, I don't want to rent a boat for this trip but I also don't want to destroy my Kipawa.

Thanks for the encouraging words, True North. I notice your reply changed a little though ;) does that mean I *won't* enjoy my paddle down the Steel?

Author:  Krusty [ August 13th, 2017, 3:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Brad Thomas wrote:
Jonathan, I watched all the videos in your series over the course of the last couple days! Good job, and nicely edited.

Agreed. Great job Jon! Particularly appreciated your sense of humor. Please make more.

Author:  Jonathan Kelly [ August 27th, 2017, 2:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Thanks Peek and Krusty! Posted my Obatanga trip after the Steel River, and I have three week-long trips on my laptop from the last month to get up too. Problem is I'm doing more trips now lol...hopefully get some up this month!

Author:  Speckling [ August 12th, 2018, 5:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

On a whim, and operating under a tight schedule, my son and I decided to do the Steel River Loop and just completed it - August 2- August 8th 2018. He needed to be back to school for fall semester and it was either this narrow time window or no time window.

We are grateful to all those that have traveled this path over time and shared their experience for subsequent paddlers to follow. Thought a few follow-up comments from our 2018 travels here may be useful to others.

To begin, the map link provided at the top of the topic by Brad was too good to be true – containing just about anything you’d need to know about on-water, portages and camp sites (already had the 1:50,000 topo series but the annotated map set available here is vastly superior). Likewise, subsequent contributions by other authors here have enriched the topic further.

Bugs were far better than expected and most of the time were not even noticeable. In some of the low sections of portages and when the wind died totally the misquotes made their presence known, but a little dose of bush perfume (either Picaridin or Deet based products) put the situation right. I’d never used a picaridin-based repellant product before and the lotion type product we employed worked well. It does not exhibit the solvency that DEET does, i.e., ability to dissolve some vinyl-based products and inks, so caused no damage or dissolution of any plastic components, and for that reason was nice to use.

On the subject of the Diablo Portage, although I’d been across it a few times 30-40 years ago for fishing, all I could remember was the steep incline required to exit Santoy and the treacherous footing across the top in a ravine for the remainder of the port. Well, it didn’t disappoint and had exactly the potential I recalled to be a real ankle buster. As we were about 300 m from the end at Diablo Lake I was stunned to hear a chainsaw working ahead. Turned out it was 4 fellows from Pic River (father, son and 2 others) that had been hired by the band to clear portages. They started at the bridge between Cairngorm and Steel Lake and were making their way out via Santoy Lake. The large log suspended across a rock pinch in the portage trail, that required threading your canoe through the space needle, is no more, and we subsequently sailed through without a hitch.

The pinch point that was cleared can be viewed at 3:15 into the youtube linked video below.

Further related to portage clearing, the 1st leg (800 m) of the portage from Diablo to Cairngorm was absolutely spotless and not once across the entire length did I hear so much as a squeak from the canoe touching anything! The guys did a real nice job on it and put out their shingle at the start of the port as shown below.

Port Sign and Diablo Exit.jpg

The remainder of the lake sections and down to Rainbow Falls was uneventful and pretty much exactly as described in the map annotations. We caught the odd blue walleye here and there, which was novel as I’d never seen one before. The campsite at Rainbow was large and comfortable and we found getting to the river for water to be hardly any inconvenience at all as the port ends very near camp.


The area from Rainbow Falls to the Dead Horse Bridge is in my opinion the prettiest part of the entire Loop, where the river runs quickly from riffle to riffle in very deep relief for 2 hr until the Dead Horse Bridge (16U 0511589 5432084). Wish we would have had more time as this entire area looked like promising fishing.

From Rainbow Falls on down we decided to make a run for it and try to get out in a day. Got on the water at 7:30 AM and tried to keep on the paddles for the entire day. We made the Dead Horse Bridge in about 1:40, and continued to the 1st log jam. The port on RL was a bit messy as blowdowns caused a few reroutes of the port trail which made getting our 18.5’ MN II around the corners a bit challenging. The port ended at a steep bank with quicksand at the base, but fortunately a huge log laying at the bottom made loading and egress feasible. This was the only challenging port of the entire trip as all others were better with respect to congestion. We took a 20 minute break for lunch and arrived at Santoy ~ 5:30PM. Wind was pretty stiff out of the south which slowed our progress significantly taking about 1 hr to get back to the Diablo portage where we were resigned to admitting we were windbound and would spend the night on a small space just big enough to fit two corpse (which is about how we felt then). Bored in the mist, cloud and wind we had nothing better to do than ascend the Diablo port for something to do. In the 0.5 hr it took us to leisurely get up and down the hill, the wind had miraculously ceased and we were back on the paddles by 7 PM, arriving at the Santoy launch ~ 8:30 PM. So if you decide you’re coming out in a day from Rainbow expect to pull paddles for a solid 12 hr and pray for good weather on Santoy.

In summary, this is a challenging physical trip with several miles of portages, and to my recollection, mile per mile rivals any of the arctic canoe treks I've been on. Then again it may just be my perspective as I was in my 30s and 40s on the arctic treks and now I'm closer to 70 than 60. Hope you try it as it's a beautiful trip. So close to civilization, yet so remote as we saw not a single person in 100+ miles aside from the portage maintenance crew at the outset.

Hope somebody finds something useful in the foregoing. Cheers.

Author:  user0317 [ August 13th, 2018, 2:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Speckling, your really lucked out having the portage trails cleared. I did this route in early June, the trails across the entire route were covered in brush and trees that were knocked down l by the winter's snow. Still a great route though. Caught some nice specks in the Steel below Rainbow Falls.

Author:  Jonathan Kelly [ August 14th, 2018, 5:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Steel River Loop Maps Repost

Great update Speckling. Wonderful to hear that Biigtigong is clearing the trails (especially Diablo to Cairngorm which was getting bad last summer), and shocking to hear about the relative lack of bugs. Good thing, considering your timeline. The blue walleye are really neat. Rainbow Falls to the launch is a hell of a day. I intended on doing the same but ended up windbound on Santoy for a full extra day and night. That lake is nasty. Planning to do the trip in a week is risky given all of the potential to be windbound, but glad it worked out for ya.

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