Mattawa River - Trout Lake to Mattawa

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Additional Route Information
58 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
1936 m
Longest Portage: 
456 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

A fair amount of portaging, and several of them are quite rugged. In particular, the portage around Talon Dam is quite difficult (steep, rocky and numerous ledges to climb)

Technical Guide: 

Hwy 17 east of North Bay, north on Hwy 94, then right on Macpherson Drive
Start at Trout Lake - MNR office
East through Trout Lake
East on Mattawa River
East through Turtle Lake
P 200 m R (Portage de la Mauvaise Musique)
Northeast through Pine Lake
P 456 m (Portage Pin de Musique)
Southeast through Talon Lake
East on Mattawa River
P 330 m (Portage de Talon)
East then north through Pimisi Lake
P 157 m L (Portage des Perches)
P 100 m R (Portage de la Cave)
P 287 m L (Portage de la Prairie)
P 402 m R around Paresseux Falls (Portage des Paresseux)
East on Mattawa River
P 150 m R (Portage des Roches)
P 184 m R (Portage Campion)
East on Mattawa River to finish at town of Mattawa

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Mattawa River Trip Log
This log is based on a trip done in mid-September 1998 by a group of six paddlers. We paddled the Mattawa from the west end of Trout Lake in north Bay to the junction of the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers, at the town of Mattawa
Water levels were extremely low - apparently the lowest they had been in about 20 years.
Paddlers on the trip were Richard Munn, Rob Crema, Peter Shuparski, Alan Marcon, Niel McKay and Gil Gasparini.
Day One (18 km / no portages or rapids)
We met at Tim Hortons east of Sudbury at 7:30 am and headed out for North Bay. We had three vehicles carrying three canoes. The shuttle plan was for all three drivers to meet at the MNR office at Trout Lake in North Bay. We would unload the gear, and three of us would stay there to organize and pack the canoes. The other three people would take the three vehicles up to Mattawa, and return to North Bay in one of the cars. We would leave behind a truck and a van, so that we could bring the three canoes (two in the back of the truck) back to North Bay at the completion of the trip.
Arrived at the MNR office in North Bay at about 9:00 am and unloaded the gear. The shuttle drivers were back from Mattawa by about 11:00 and we headed east on Trout Lake.
Trout Lake is a large body of water, with many cottages along its shores. We paddled under sunny skies in fairly calm conditions. There was a bit of a west wind, so we decided to tie the canoes together and hoist a nylon tarp as a sail. Unfortunately, the winds were sporadic, and we spend more time uncovering our bow paddlers from the collapsed sail than we did sailing. We eventually gave up, separated the canoes and paddled east. Twice more, the winds seem to pick up and we again attempted to sail, with similar results. Even when we were catching a good breeze, the GPS showed that we were progressing at between 4 and 5 km / hr, less than our normal paddling speed. We finally packed away the tarp and simply paddled the rest of the lake.
Stopped for lunch at one of the sites at the east end of Camp Island (UTM 328304) for lunch. The site was gorgeous, with large tent areas and a nice sand beach. Unfortunately it was also heavily overused and littered with trash. A 6" diameter maple had been chopped down with an axe and abandoned. It lay there still attached to the stump, with the branches and leaves still on it. Apparently somebody (not understanding that green wood doesn’t burn) had tried to make it into firewood and given up in the process. The beach and firepit were littered with bottles, cans and paper. We had a quick lunch then spent 15 minutes cleaning up the site, taking with us a half-filled green garbage bag. There are several sites on the east end of Trout Lake in addition to the one that we stopped at. The two ‘points’ that protruded from the east end both have large camping areas. My guess from the degree of soil compaction and amount of litter is that they are heavily used not only by paddlers, but by local boaters as a camping / picnic area.
About 1 km west of Camp Island, the lake begins to narrow down and empties into the Mattawa River. A short distance down the river, we passed the ‘Stepping Stones’, a narrow rock garden which partially crosses the river. This boulder pile is the remnants of a glacial moraine which crossed the river at one time. Close to this location, there is a public park / picnic area on the south side of the river. We went ashore to put the garbage we had recovered from Camp Island into a trash can there, saving us from carrying it for the rest of the trip. This park would also be a good location to begin the trip if you didn’t want to do the 10 km paddle through Trout Lake.
Another 1½ km downstream brought us to Portage de la Tortue. This historic portage is no longer necessary since the rapid here was blasted out to allow boat traffic between Trout Lake and Turtle Lake. The river takes a sharp left at this location, going through a pretty narrows at the former rapid location.
A scenic 4 km section of river followed. There were several campsites visible on small Islands along this stretch (for example, on Stubbs Island) but the ones we inspected were very small. They tended to have nice firepit / sitting areas, but limited space for tents. They seemed to be more lunch-stops than actual campsites.
We decided to paddle another 3 km or so into Turtle Lake, which had several promising-looking points on the north shore for camping. We were not disappointed. We put ashore at the large point protruding into the lake (UTM 416292) and found a huge camping area. Large smooth rock areas down at the waterfront, and a large, grassy field up a little higher. It could easily hold 7 or 8 tents if necessary. It was quite clean, looking as if it had just been ‘tidied up’ and raked, but there were a lot of areas with ‘Trillium Patches’ of toilet paper in various locations. We unloaded and were finished setting up the tents and kitchen area by 5:00 pm. Great supper of Parmesan noodles and chicken, and we relaxed and watched the sunset from the rocks. It was dark by 8:30 pm, and when the last remnants of light had disappeared from the horizon, we went back down to the rocks to stargaze. We spent and hour or so staring at a wonderful display of stars, satellites and meteorites. We were treated to the most spectacular shooting star that any of us have ever witnessed. It streaked across the sky, with an amazingly bright ‘tail’ that had a greenish tinge and a length that spanned a quarter of the distance from horizon to horizon. None of us had ever seen anything like it before.
Everyone turned in at about 10:30 pm (are we getting old, or what!)
Day Two (10 km / 2 Portages or rapids)
The relaxed pace of the trip (60 km in 4 days) meant that we didn’t have to be overly ambitious. We were up at 8:00 am, and spent a lazy hour or so drinking coffee and eating breakfast. Packed up camp and were on the water at about 10:00 am.
We were planning to paddle about 15 km and portage around the Talon Dam at the end of the day.
Less than 1 km down Turtle Lake, we arrived at Portage de la Mauvaise Musique. Well, we almost arrived at it. What we actually arrived at was a very shallow swampy area in the river which lead into the portage. We paddled and poled our way through the weedy section until we reached a small beaver dam. After pulling over the dam, we found ourselves in an even shallower, swampier section. We pulled, waded, and grunted our way through about 100 m of very soft riverbed with hummocks of grass at the sides. The bottom was oozy black loon shit with a high content of swamp gas - lots of fun. We managed to get the canoes to the beginning of the portage without unloading any of the gear, which was a bit of a plus.
The actual portage from this point was short and well-groomed. It is marked as 200 paces. It is level for most of its length, with one small hill near the end. The end of the trail is on Pine Lake.
Pine Lake is about 2 km long, and very pretty. Lots of small pine-covered islands, and a few cottages along the north side of the lake. We saw campsites on many of these islands, but didn’t stop to check all of them. Those that we could see from the water seemed to be quite small.
Portage Pin de Musique leaves Pine Lake on the north shore. Marked as 450 paces, it could only be easier if it were paved. It is wide, groomed and level. About 50 m along the trail it crosses a gravel road, the carries on towards Talon Lake. The last 100 m or so is a moderately steep downhill. It ends at a sandy beach on Talon Lake.
Talon is a large lake (almost as large as Trout Lake) but most of the cottages are clustered along the northwest shoreline. It feels a little more isolated that it actually is, but we were also there in mid-September and it would probably be much busier with boat traffic in mid-summer. We paddled north then southeast on calm water under sunny skies, and stopped for lunch at Graswell Point. The site on the point is excellent, with a couple of white sand beaches, and a level grass field behind the trees. The firepit was clean, as was the entire site. A couple of box latrines sit behind the site. The excellent quality of the site, and our easy paddling itinerary made us start considering the possibility of shortening our day and staying there. After much debate, we decided to stay put for the day - an embarrassingly short 10 km day.
We ate lunch and set up the tents, and were in relax mode by 1:30 pm. Played euchre, enjoyed the scenery and swam (chilly water) off the white sandy beaches. A family with four small children stopped at the site on a pontoon boat and stayed for a couple of hours, swimming at one of the beaches. We got the impression that the site was used not only as a canoeing campsite, but also as a small recreational ‘park’ by the locals. In any event, we didn’t mind sharing the beach on such a beautiful day.
After supper, we began to get ready for our annual "sweat-lodge." This isn’t a real sweat lodge in the sense of that used by native cultures, but the concept is the same. Our sweat lodge consists of one of those horrible floppy six-person K Mart tents that you can buy on sale for $80.00. We bought one of these several years ago and cut out the floor and sewed the tent fly on the top over the mesh vent area. We heat up 7 or 8 large rocks (red hot) in the fire, put them in a pile and place the tent over them. We then pile in around the perimeter and enjoy this portable sauna.
A couple of caveats ... wood has to be gathered from far and wide so as not to strip the area around the campsite completely bare. We send out a couple of canoes to gather wood from a wide area. Second, the whole concept can be potentially dangerous. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to envision the injury that would result if someone lost their balance and fell onto or stepped on the hot rocks. Third, you have to be willing to do a bit of work to restore the site. For example, we built the fire in the existing firepit and used the rocks from a second firepit on the site. When all was said and done, we replaced everything back in its original spot. Fourth, you can’t do this on a patch of grass and expect no damage - it should be done on bare rock or sand.
Our sweat was ready by 10:00 pm and we entered the tent, lit by a candle lantern. Half an hour later, having been blasted awake by three or four trips between the scorching steam and the cold lake, we flopped exhausted onto the ground to recover.
Lightning was beginning to light up the sky in the distance, and we could hear distant thunder. It sounded like it was bypassing us, and we finally turned in at about midnight. As it turned out, the storm didn’t miss us ... at about 2:00 in the morning we were treated to a loud thunderstorm right over us, and some heavy rains for about an hour and a half.
Day Three (14 km / 6 portages or rapids)
Woke up to a cool, overcast day with a bit of chop on the lake. Everyone was up by 8:00 am and we were on the water by 10:00 am. Paddled the remaining 5 km down Talon Lake in a cold north wind. By the time we reached the end of the lake, the cloud cover was beginning to break and we could see blue skies once again.
Just west of Talon Lake is the Talon Dam and a 330 pace portage. Definitely an ankle-breaker. The trail winds up and down over very rugged rock outcrops, then drops very steeply through a mini-canyon to end at a rocky put-in. It is hard enough to keep one’s footing going from west to east, as we were. It would be a good climb up very uneven ground to do in the other direction. Rating ... somewhere between moderate and difficult in the direction we did it. Nonetheless, it is a truly beautiful trail, with wonderful rock formations. A climb to the top of the outcrops gives a great view of the river from the top of the cliffs. There are several ‘swirl holes’ in the rock at the top of the cliffs, caused by the rolling action of a boulder gradually digging its way into the bedrock as the water flowed over it when levels were much, much higher. The holes are perfectly circular in cross-section, looking like they have been mechanically bored, and some of them are 5-6 ft. deep. Unfortunately, the bottom of the holes is littered with beer cans and food wrappers ... gotta wonder who would do something like that.
A quick paddle to the east brought us to Pimisi Bay. Highway 17 runs across the south end of this bay, making it a possible bail-out or start point. We headed north out of the bay back into the river. Right at the exit from Pimisi Bay is Decharge des Perches, a small rapid. We found only a row of timber cribbing with a shallow rock garden beyond it. We paddled straight through with a few bumps. The river opened up into a small ‘pond’ about 400 m in diameter. The river drained from this pond through a small rapid, which required a mix of running, lining and wading.
Portage de la Cave, which followed this rapid was another portage we didn’t have to do. The low water meant that we simply had to get through with a mix of walking and lining.
About 500 m further down the river, we arrived at Petit Paresseux Falls. We scouted the run from the portage trail. The portage was flat, but very rocky with hundreds of tree roots exposed by compaction and erosion. The rapid itself was shallow for the most part, with a deeper section from the centre to the end. A sweeper crossed the entire river except for a 4 ft. Space at river left where someone had thoughtfully cut out a section of the tree. There was no ‘falls’ in the run when we saw it, only two small ledges at the end which both appeared to be runnable. We waded the first (shallow) section of the rapid, then jumped into the canoes as the water deepened. The rest of the rapid was a simple run which involved weaving between the many boulders.
Another km downstream we arrived at Portage des Paresseux (around Paresseux Falls). Knowing that this falls has an 8 m drop, we didn’t bother scouting. We ate lunch in the small clearing at the beginning of the trail, then started slugging the gear through. The portage trail was level at first, then turned rocky - very rocky. It was obvious that the trail had once been part of the river bed, since it was strewn with large round boulders. It looked just like a section of river bed, minus the water. There was a steep downhill section at the end and a rocky put in.
Even though there wasn’t much water going over Paresseux Falls, it was still spectacular, spanning the 100 m or so across the river with water flowing over a vertical drop. Very pretty.
The river turned from north-south to an east-west direction right after the falls. We kept an eye out on the north (left) bank for Porte de L’Enfer, a cave about 5 m above river level. This cave is the site of an ancient archeological site where the native population used to mine iron oxide. This material was ground into a fine powder and used as the basis for pictograph paint. Getting up to the cave involves a scramble up a very steep embankment covered with loose material. Toeholds are small, and the only handholds are the cedar roots protruding from the ground. A slip would mean a bumpy roll and a splash-landing back in the river, since there is no level shoreline at this point. The cave is not a large one, but is still worth a visit. The floor slopes steeply down to the river, so a slip inside the cave would probably have the same result as a slip outside it. Someone has taken the time and trouble to climb one of the walls and decorate it with graffiti in blue spray paint. One has to wonder at the compulsion which makes some people feel the need to paint their name on every rock surface they see. Doing it in an important historical / cultural / religious site like this must require a particularly low level of intelligence and insensitivity. As far as I’m concerned, anyone caught doing this should be barred from the wilderness for life. A careful ‘slide’ down the steep embankment put us back at our canoes.
We paddled east for about 2 km and arrived at Elm Point. It wasn’t quite as far as we’d planned on going, but when we saw the site we knew we had to stay. Similar to Graswell Point, it had a grassy area in the centre, and the shoreline was all white sandy beach. A rocky stream runs down the hill and into the river on the west side of the site. The elm tree that provided the name for the site is pretty bedraggled - mostly dead with one or two live branches. In a spirit of abject laziness, we stopped for the night and set up camp.
Took a Caribbean-style photo of the group with everyone lounging on the sand in bathing suits and sunglasses. A relaxing afternoon fishing, playing cards and swimming. Late dinner of Chile and baked potatoes at 7:30 pm. Very cold out - we could see our breath. At least it justified bringing the warm clothing that we hadn’t even unpacked to this point Coffee at the campfire and an early bedtime. Everyone else stayed up until about 10:00, but I crashed at about 9:00 to write in the journal and get some sleep - tired, with a sore back.
Day Four ( 20 km / 3 portages or rapids)
Our lazy paddling schedule from the day before meant that we would probably not be out in Mattawa by noon as we had originally planned. We were up at 8:00 am and on the water by 9:30 am. Still cool, and spectacular mist over the water. We paddled through this fog and mist until almost noon.
About 2 km downstream, we arrived at Les Epingles, a small swift. Niel and Gil ran down the centre, but bottomed out a few times. The rest of us lined down the left side. Even 3 or 4 inches more water would have made it a simple riffle. Immediately after Les Epingles, we arrived at Portage des Roches. The rapid seemed to be in two separate sections, a boulder garden at the start, then the main rapid a little further on. The portage only goes around the main section. We weaved our way through the small bouldery section, then pulled out at the portage to scout the remainder. Too low to run - thousands of boulders protruding. Unfortunately it wasn’t lineable either, since the deep centre channel was far removed from the rocky shoreline. There weren’t enough rocks to walk on at this location. We resigned ourselves to walking the trail with our gear. It quickly became obvious why it is called Portage des Roches (Rocks). The path is covered with round stones ranging is size from baseball to pumpkin size. It is a continual decision as to whether one should step gingerly between the rocks, or try to walk on top of the rocks. Regardless of the choice, this is prime ankle-spraining country. We made it through without injury and were back on the water by 11:00 am.
Another 2 km east, and we arrived at the Campion Rapids, at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. As with every other rapid on the trip, this one was dry. It split into two channels and ran past the park. The portage was not necessary. One group paddled / bumped / waded their way down the right channel, and the rest of us lined and waded down the left side. Stopped at the downstream end of the portage (park road) and walked into the park to see if the voyageur exhibits were still set up. Nope ... the bark canoe was gone, and we only got to see a glass display case with a couple of artifacts. Back on the river and continuing to paddle east towards Mattawa.
The next 6 km involved uneventful river paddling - nice section, with little development and high, steep walls on both sides of the river. As soon as we hit Chant Plain Lake, the development / cottages began. A monotonous 4 km further brought us to the dam at the east end of Chant Plain. The portage at this site is a disaster. Narrow, muddy, and caving it at sections. We chose instead to land on a small ‘spit’ of land against the dam at the south side. Half of the group went on top of the dam, and the others handed up gear and canoes to them. The other side of the dam at this point is a gravel parking lot. Leading from this parking area is a road which leads downhill and eventually intersects the portage trail. This was much, much easier than using the portage.
The next km of river was very shallow. The riverbed was covered with thousands of planks and timbers, obviously from a lumber operation in the area. Three more km of boring paddling through the town of Mattawa (houses, cottages, boats, airplanes, etc) and we arrived at the Ottawa River. We went under the highway bridge into the Ottawa River and turned south under the long steel railway bridge. Another couple of km and we arrived at our vehicles, parked at the dock by Valois Restaurant. Peter’s van started, Niel’s truck didn’t. After boosting it and loading the gear, we headed up to Valois’ to eat lunch (3:00 pm lunch, that is). Huge hamburgers and fries, guaranteed to undo any cardiovascular good we might have done for ourselves during the trip.
Drove back to North Bay to get the other vehicle, then back home to Sudbury.
The final verdict?
Unless you really like large lake paddling, skip Trout Lake at the start. It’s a nice lake, but quite developed - certainly not the high point of the trip.
Another good section to skip would be the section right at the town of Mattawa. Crowded with cottages and development. It was quiet when we were there (mid-Sept) but I’m sure it would be a madhouse in the summer.
If we were to do the route again, we’d make it a three-day trip and start at the Picnic area at the east end of Trout Lake (by the Stepping Stones). We’d stay the first night on Pine Lake or at Graswell Point on Talon. We’d stay somewhere around Talon Dam on the second night. We’d finish at the Park.
A good fall trip - I’m sure it’s a busy route in the summer, and it’s accessible at many locations along its length by canoeists and boaters (and local partyers). We missed peak fall colours by about a week - they were just starting when we did this trip.
Richard Munn

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
31 L/6 North Bay 31 L/7 Mattawa
Special Comments: 

This route can be shortened by putting in at the east end of Trout Lake and taking out before the town of Mattawa (at Samuel de Champlain Prov. Park)

Photo Gallery


Post date: Thu, 05/13/2010 - 19:31


This was very helpful. There are, however, 10 portages. I went early in the season, April 15, 2010 and things were a bit different. If you are planning to make a trip, make sure you pay attention for the portage signs. Some have been pushed over and most of them have no more wood- as it has been stolen.

At the Portage des Roches the sign has been knocked down- and you have to have a keen eye so as not to get sucked down the rapids.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


We did a trip at the Labour day weekend 2005. We paddled from the East end of Trout Lake to Samuel de Champlain provincial park. Rain started several times at the first day of the trip and sometimes was quite heavy. It did not last for more than half an hour. The outfitter told us that this weather stayed for past two or three days. Despite of a rain, water level was low at the most of the rapids.
We had two canoes and six persons in the group. We rented canoes at Algonquin North outfitting company. They conveniently located right at HWY 17, at the North entrance to Algonquin park. We left cars by the store and were dropped at put-in point at East end of Trout Lake.
Despite of a rain we had a nice trip through the end of Trout Lake and Portage de la Tortue. We stoped for a snack at one of Turtle lake islands. The place was quite rough for the campsite – there is just rocks, routes and no flat place to put a tent. At the end of the day we arrived to Portage de la Mauvaise Musique. We knew that there is a swampy area before the portage, thanks to the log of the trip left on this site. Otherwise we would newer think that there is one. We crawled and poled our way to beaver dam. Than we paddled another 200 yards before we got to the portage. Ministry of the Natural Resources may do a better job identifying portages. The portage sign was thrown in shallow water and it looked like was there for a while.
We portaged to the Pine Lake and camped there overnight. There is couple of campsites on the small islands. Had to spend some time to clean it from rusted tins and broken bottles. Otherwise it nice place to stay.
Next day we portage to Talon Lake. We meet another party and they told us that they choose another route through three portages from the Turtle lake to Talon Lake. They stopped overnight at the trailer park at the North part of Talon Lake. There are pretty many cottages and moderate boat traffic over the Talon Lake. Grasswell Point is the best place to camp over here. There are four of five separate campsites most of them were available. We did past two trailer parks at the East End of the lake. There is possibility to put-in for the short trip. There is also small store, not much in. The bigger store and the Beer store are a mile down the road. We did not bothered. All we need is extra propane tank which store did not have.
Talon Dam portage is really bad. Steep rocks, boulders and beaten path. Kids enjoy jumping in the water from rock crops down from waterfall.
Pimisi Bay past the portage has one or two access points. You may actually see HWY 17 from here. Portage Decharge des Perches was just walked through. We stopped overnight before Paresseux Falls.
Next one – Paresseux Falls had a waterfal, so we portaged through. There were few more portages past the falls, but we just walked canoes through with exception of may be one. Always worth to scout it first.
The part between Paresseux Falls and Samuel le Champlain Park is the beauties part of the river. It is secluded, does have enough sites large enough and wonderful sandy beaches. We found that some people who not interested to go far just put in at the park and going ‘upstream’ untill reaching desirable site. There is no current anyway. What called river in this section is just a sequience of narrow lakes.
We paddled through two last portages before the Park. One was a little swift, and there was enough water at Champion Rapids. We called the outfitter from the park store and were picked up in no time.
All route may be done in two days instead of three with some effort.
We did really appriciated detailed notes left on that site by Richard, Joe, Don and co. Thanks.

Post date: Fri, 03/27/2009 - 06:40


Regarding the portage @ the Talon Cam, if the water is low, one can enter the water right at the foot of the dam, as long as you're very careful with you footing. Richard's comments re: Parresseux Falls portage on right on, with I think one clarification. I believe the lower part of the trail is not the old stream bed, but rather ran to the left side of the current trail. I think the large (very large) boulders were removed and a channel created to run logs in the logging era. The "logging channel" runs into the current lower Portage landing. If the large boulders were to be put back where they came from, and the whole thing refilled, we'd probably have a wide even grade trail. However, it's a Provincial Park, so we can't really expect that kind of "reconstruction" to be done, or to be allowed to be done to the portage, Pity!