Goulais River Route 2

CanadaOntarioLake Superior basin
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Mark McCabe
Trip Date : 
Several, usually in the spring or fall when water levels are up
Additional Route Information
70 km
5 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Longest Portage: 
823 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Accessing the Goulais River.

The Goulais River is best accessed by the Whitman Dam Road from Searchmont. To start your trip at Witchdoctor Lake; take the Whitman Dam road 49km out of Searchmont until it ends at the Domtar Road. Turn right on the Domtar Road and go 7.5km to the Witchdoctor Lake bridge. There has not been any logging in this area for the last few years, so these roads are not being maintained. There have been issues with washouts in the past. It is best to post a note to the board or call the MNR in the Soo before your trip to inquire about the condition of the road.


Technical Guide: 

The Goulais River is a Lake Superior tributary. It drains into the lake about 23km north of Sault Ste. Marie. As you cross the river on highway 17 it is slow and wide and not too exciting. It is a completely different river closer to its headwaters upstream from the village of Searchmont. This section of the river is wild and beautiful with a swift current, many rapids and falls. This old MNR canoe route is now protected by the creation of the Algoma Headwaters Signature Site. This Signature Site protects 60,000 hectares and is comprised of Goulais River Provincial Park, Algoma Headwaters Provincial Park, Aubinadong – Nushatogaini Provincial Park and the Ranger North Conservation Reserve. The parks are non-operational so there are no user fees at this time.


There is not much information on paddling the Goulais, so I posted a trip description. It is a 5 day trip, but since the forest access road crosses the river in a few places, you can make your trip as long or short as you want. It can be a five day trip or an overnighter, or a day trip.


The Goulais River can be divided into 3 sections.


Section 1: Witchdoctor Lake to the Goulais River Bridge

This upper part of this section starts out with mostly flat water. There are seven sets of waterfalls that need to be portaged. You will start to see some current and rapids below the forth set of falls.


Section 2: Goulais River bridge to the Saddle Lake bridge. This 10 km section is great day trip for whitewater paddlers. There are some ledge rapids to deal with and then below the last ledge is what is called "The Miracle Mile" which is a mile long class II boulder garden.


Section 3: Saddle Lake Road bridge to Whitman Dam Falls. This section is very scenic with moving water, swifts and mild rapids.


This route was once maintained by the MNR years ago. There is no longer any evidence of that today. None of the campsites or portages are signed. The river is best paddled when the water levels are up. There is a gauge on the river and the levels are posted on Environment Canada Water Office Website. Water levels between 7.6 and 8.0 should provide a good float.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Section I 

24km 8 portages


The trip starts where the Domtar road crosses Witchdoctor Lake. There is a campsite just east of the bridge on the south side of the road that is on the shore of the lake. There is room to park your vehicle and a good launching site. Witchdoctor Lake is a long narrow lake with a falls (falls #1) that needs to be portaged at the end of it. As you paddle towards the end of Witchdoctor Lake you will see a small tree covered island. Pass the island on the left. The 300 meter portage trail will be on river left set back about 20 meters from the lip of the falls. The trail will become better defined one you get away from the river bank. There are three drops in this section. Do not put in after the first falls because a short way down stream is another falls with an unrunnable rapids below it. Take the trail until you come to a quiet pool and put in there. 


A short way downstream the river will open up into Ragged Lake, another long and narrow lake. As you enter Ragged Lake you will see an area to camp on the right shore. This once was the site of an MNR camp. You can access the river from this site if you want to avoid the portage from Witchdoctor Lake. On the opposite side of the lake you will see a trapper's cabin. At the end of Ragged Lake the banks will narrow and look like a river again, but with no noticeable current. Shortly before entering Tepee Lake you will come to a class II rapids. We were able to scout the rapids from the boat and run them. I noticed what appeared to be a portage trail on river left. A short way downstream from this drop are two sets of easy class I rapids as you enter Tepee Lake. There is an easy rapids when you pass under the bridge where the Whitman Dam road crosses Tepee Lake. There is also a campsite here on north bank if you don't mind camping next to the road. At the end of Tepee Lake is a small falls (falls #2). The 92 meter portage trail is on the right. If you scout this drop, you may be able to run it staying tight to the right bank. There is a campsite on both sides of the falls. About 2.5 km downstream will be a campsite with access to an old logging road that connects to the Whitman Dam road. This site is used by fishermen to access the river. There is no current in this section of the river and they can paddle downstream to the falls or to the next falls beyond that to fish and paddle back. After passing this campsite the river will narrow between two rock faces then open up again. About 2km downstream you will come to a falls (falls #3). There is a 69 meter portage trail on the left that passes a nice but small campsite. About 750 meters below this drop is a steep unrunnable rapid. The 60 meter portage trail is on the left. Starting one km downstream will be a few stretches of fast moving water alternating with slow moving wide open sections. This gives way to the river remaining wide and slow through some moose habitat. The next falls (falls #4) has an 82 meter portage on the left over a rock outcrop before reaching a steep rock bank to the put-in. This is a very scenic location with a good campsite and excellent swimming. A short paddle from Falls #4 is Falls #5. There is a short portage on the right. There is not much current above the falls and you can take out on the rock outcrop just above the falls. There is a campsite here with a view of the falls. 


Next is falls #6. Up until this point the portage trails have been short and not too difficult to follow. The trails are used by fishermen to get down the river to fish. With the current picking up in the river, they do not get down this far. The portage has grown in and is not easy to follow. The 100 meter portage trail is on the left. There is a fairly quick current above the falls. With the thick tag alder brush on the river bank, lining is not an option. It is advisable to walk the canoe down the left bank to the top of the falls and take out through the tag alders. You may see some remnants of a trail but it will be hard to follow. You will pass a boom log and chain along the way. To put-in you have to bushwhack through some tag alders to get to the river. This falls is the most impressive of the trip so far. A distance below the put-in the river will split into two channels. The smaller channel will split off to the left. The main channel will be a 600 meter long runnable rapid. At the bottom of the rapids the two channels will join together just before falls #7. Stay to the left to get to the portage. The 82 meter portage trail will start a short distance up the smaller left channel. There was once a campsite along the trail at the top of the falls, but it has since grown in. 250 meters down from the put-in will be the start of a very scenic gorge. I saw no evidence of a portage trail above the gorge, so it is a 680 meter bushwhack on the right shore. If do not want to portage the whole gorge, run the first rapids and eddy out on the right. Below this eddy the river will split into two channels around a rocky island. The main channel will be on the left. This is the steepest part of the gorge. I would rate this part a class III+. Take out at the top of the right channel. As you bushwhack downstream, the river bank will be a rock cliff and you will be unable to get down to the water until you come to a depression that will allow you access. At this point you will be past the steepest drop and you can scout the rapids downstream from here. The rapids will be turbulent because the water is squeezed by the gorge, but not very steep. By doing this you should be able to cut the portage distance in half. Below the gorge will be a few minor rapids and swifts the river will slow down as you enter a swamp. Shortly after that you will see the Goulais River Bridge of the Whitman Dam Road. If you choose to end your trip here, look for a sandy bank on the right after you pass the bridge. Once you climb the bank you will see the Whitman Dam road. 30 meters up the road to your right will be a grassy area surrounded by trees suitable for several tents.


Section II

10km 3 portages


While the river dropped in elevation through a series of falls in Section I, this section the river drops in elevation through a series of rapids. Paddlers who travel through this section should comfortable in class two rapids as you will have to negotiate continuous mile long stretch of rapids here. A royalex boat with some floatation is a good choice for this section. 

After passing under the bridge, you will be paddle some flat water through a swamp until you reach the Twin Falls. This is a pair of waterfalls separated by a large island. Paddle towards the falls on the left and you will find a short portage trail on river left. This drop can be run at certain water levels but be careful as it was once a logging dam. The river changes character and is now moving water. Shortly after the falls you will come to a ledge that is about a 2-3 foot drop. This is best run just to the right of center. The rapids below the ledge are best run on river right. You will come to another ledge that is just downstream from a small rock island. This ledge is not quite as much of a drop as the first one. The next drop which is about 100 meters down stream should be portaged or lined on river right. The portage will be short, you may want to run this ledge after scouting it. Stay away from the drop on river left as it is a dangerous hole. From here you will enter the S rapids with fairly large standing waves at the bottom. About 300 meters downstream will be the Apollo drop. Approach this rapid on river left where there will be some calm water at the bank. The drop can be scouted from here. This drop is runnable at certain water levels. If you choose not to run it, you can drag the boat down across the smooth rock on the river left. A short paddle from here will bring you to a small falls that needs to be portaged. The river will turn to the left and go over a falls. Take out at the rock outcrop on river right before the turn. This outcrop makes an excellent campsite. As you lower your boat into the river on the other side of the rock, you will be headed very quickly to the next drop. This drop is best run on the right. 


This is the last of the ledges. Now get ready for a long stretch of continuous class I and II water known as the Miracle Mile. As you pick your way through this boulder garden, you will see a small tree covered island. Go to the left of the island and pay attention to the bouncy standing waves. The  waves will greet you near the end of the island and maybe even get you a little wet. Once you are past this, you can relax and enjoy the fast and fun water. The rapids will wind down to a swift current with some mild splashy stuff as you get closer to the Saddle Lake Road Bridge.


Section III

34km 4 portages


In this section the river is scenic and relaxing. The water will flow swiftly with some mild rapids. There is a ledge about an hour down from the bridge that can be portaged over the rock outcrop on the right. After scouting the drop you may want to run it. The Whitman Dam Road comes close to the river in a few sections, but is not very noticeable. 10km downstream you will come to Goulais Falls. You will find a portage trail on the right just before passing the cables that cross the river overhead. These cables go to the Environment Canada water gauge shack that can be seen on shore. The trail will take you to the Whitman Dam Road. Follow the road 523 meters to the launch site below the falls. Half way down the portage, you will notice a trail that will take you to the falls. This is a good place to sit and enjoy the view. You can end the trip here, or you can continue on in the swift current down stream to Whitman Dam Falls. This drop was once the site of a large logging dam, but you will be hard pressed to find any evidence of the dam today. When approaching these falls, look for the take-out trail on the right just above the falls. The water pools up before going over the falls, so you can get close to the brink before taking out. Follow this trail a short ways to a two track road. This two track will take you out to the Whitman Dam Road. 


If you do not want to end the trip just yet, you can follow portage trail 826 meters along the right bank and continue on towards Searchmont. There are some rapids about 200 meters downstream from the put-in that should be portaged on the right in higher water. It is a 10km paddle from here to the bridge in Searchmont. As the river turns and winds its way down down stream there will be no rapids to speak of. but the current will remain swift and you will see a lot of gravel bars.


Note: If you want to take out at Whitman Dam Falls, you will need to shuttle a vehicle to the falls. There is a two track road off of the Whitman Dam road that will lead to the falls. Look for the two track on the right between 3 and 4km past where the pavement ends on the Whitman Dam road.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 O/04 Welcome Lake 41 J/13 Ranger Lake 41 K/16 Searchmont
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