Partridge River

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Sky Bicevskis
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
125 km
7 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

- Float plane to Kesagami Lake
- Portage to Partridge Lake
- Partidge Lake to Partridge River
- Partridge River to James Bay
- James Bay to Moose River to Moosonee

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Kesagami Lake - Partridge River - Moosonee

This summary of the Partridge River canoe route is based on a trip made in early July 1992. The nature of the river can vary a great deal based on water levels, so a trip made - in spring runoff or late summer may encounter conditions quite different from those described below.

Generally speaking, this little known river is a pleasure to canoe. It offers a great deal of variety ranging from lake travel, runnable white water, quiet meandering stretches, and then tops it all off with a short stint on James Bay. There are very few portages for a trip of this length. We logged 6 or 7, the first being between Kesagami lake and Partridge lake, The others around waterfalls, ledges and chutes. Quite a few liftovers and some dragging were required in the upper stretches where the river is narrow and also extensively in the Blackbear Island area.

This river is very remote. If you encounter difficulties, assistance is far away. Most days we saw/heard at least one bush plane, so in the case of an extreme emergency, a plane could probably be alerted, but that's not something to count on. Although we found the rapids runnable, many are quite technical in nature. Kesagami Lake at the beginning of the trip is a very large lake and subject to sometimes rapid weather changes. James Bay at the other end of the trip requires you to deal with tides, as well as wide tidal flats, as well as the potential for high winds and waves. Weather is fickle, it can be nice, but be prepared cold, wet and lots of bugs.

# Days
The entire trip took us 11 days. Of those 11 days we spent 2 extra days on Kesagami Lake doing some fishing, and took 2 rest days when it was pouring rain. We paddled for 7 days - some of which were long paddles (8-10 hrs per day). We recommend a minimum of 7 days for this trip.

1. Float plane from Cochrane to Kesagami Lake (method used by us).
2. Float plane from Cochrane to Partridge Lake
(avoid the quarter/half mile portage between Kesagami and Partridge Lakes)
3. From Cochrane by car to Upper Kesagami Lake. Upper Kesagami
is directly accessible from hwy 652 about an hours drive north of Cochrane.
From there, a series of lakes and narrow rivers will take you to Kesagami Lake.
(add approximately 4 to 5 days to your trip) NOTE: we used this access point when we paddled the Kesagami River a few years later – for information on this portion of the trip please refer to my trip report on the Kesagami River (also on this web site).

Route Summary:

This summary discusses the river in basically six sections: Kesagami Lake; Partridge Lake and upper river; rapids; Blackbear Island; lower river; and finally combines marsh, James Bay and Moose River into one section. Each of these sections is quite unique in nature.

In each section we discuss the availability of campsites. This usually refers to what we considered 'good' campsites. In this category are spots that are level, cleared, preferably on/near rock or in some way providing some distance from the forest (bugs). We make references to some areas having few campsites - all this means is that we didn't see any place that we would have liked to camp. It was always possible to clear a spot on a riverbank or in the forest if necessary.

Water level is very important everywhere. In high water, some of the falls may be runnable, some of the chutes may not be. In lower water levels the opposite may be true. For this reason, we will avoid making recommendations on what can or cannot be run. It is all up to the paddler, his ability, and the water levels he encounters. We will point out the obstacles to expect in each section - but anyone travelling this route should abide by the rule: When in doubt... Scout: There are a few instances where chutes or small waterfalls are within or immediately after sets of rapids. Look out for these.

Kesagami Lake: (1 day)

Kesagami Lake is approximately 10 km by 22 km large (we were surprised by the actual size) and generally quite shallow. There is a commercial hunting/fishing lodge located on the south east side of the lake.

We spent our first night at the lodge. The people were friendly, the food was good, and it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a bit more about the area and listen to the 'fish' stories of other guests. One fisherman had caught a 22 lb pike the previous day.

Kesagami Lake is classified as a wilderness provincial park so you can camp anywhere on the lake. Our experience however, was that there were few good campsites on the lake. The sandy beach at the narrows where Newman Bay comes into Lake Kesagami, as well as some of the beaches on the west side of Big Island looked as if they could be potential campsites. We camped on the far western tip of the peninsula above Opimiskau Bay. This spot has an established fire pit and was actually marked as a park campsite. There was a lovely sand spit on the very point of the peninsula that provided a relatively 'bug free' place to sit as well as a panoramic view of the lake. Seagulls, loons and ducks also like the sandy spit. Some seagull type birds were nesting there.

The weather changes quickly on this lake. We camped/fished there for three days. It rained a little every day, and the rain clouds often seemed to come with high winds. Exercise caution if attempting to cross a wide span of this lake.

If you like fishing, plan to spend a few extra days here. It was the best fishing that we had on the entire trip, and the best fishing I (personally) have had anywhere. It is one of the few lakes in Ontario that offers trophy pike fishing. Our catch was usually pike or walleye. The pike we caught ranged from 3 to 6 lb, the walleye were smaller. We released all fish except those that we planned to eat.

Caribou are reputed to be numerous on this Lake. We saw one in the distance about 4km south of our campsite, and also fresh caribou tracks appeared around our campsite while we were out fishing one day.

There was a strong south wind on the day we left the lodge. Our route across the lake took us from the lodge (situated just north of Newman Bay), along the south shore trying to stay in the lee of the wind. We then cut across to Big Island to avoid crossing the bay which lies south of the island, and went around the north shore of the island, again to avoid the wind. We had to paddle into the wind coming back down the west side of the island to it's southerly tip, and then cut across to an easterly point jutting out from the peninsula. We then followed the edge of the peninsula until we reached the campsite on the point. We camped on the point for two full days (3 nights).

On the day we left the campsite, the weather was very calm so we cut across Opimiskau Bay in a north westerly direction that would take us almost directly to the portage trail. Depending on the winds, a shorter crossing of the bay is possible if you go almost directly west and then work your way up the shore. The portage trail to Partridge Lake is located on the left side of a sandy beach. It takes you to the south east corner of Partridge Lake. The trail is not marked in any way, but once you get close enough to it, there is an obvious path going into the woods. It is approximately a quarter of a mile long over a rough path. Expect lots of bugs and fallen logs over the path.

Partridge Lake/Upper River

From the portage trail to the beginning of the river is a short paddle along one side of Partridge Lake. You will pass a fishing/hunting cabin just before you reach the top of the river. Rumour has it that the owner is not particularly friendly, and we were told to simply ignore him. We did not see anyone at the cabin - he may have been in one of the two boats that we saw further down the lake. These boats were (with the exception of bush planes) the last we saw of people until the Moose River.

Welcome to the river! The upper portion of the river was barely passable with the water levels that we had. Higher water (earlier in the season) would have been much preferable here. We did a lot of dragging over blow downs and rocky/rapid type areas. The river is VERY narrow. We had a 16’ canoe. There were many places where an eddy turn would have been impossible due to the narrow nature of the river. If you're here in bug season (we were), there is no escape from the bugs.

Niska and Richards Lakes offer a break from the river (bugs) at this point. The long quiet meandering south point of Niska Lake looked as if it would have great potential for wildlife watching. We saw a beaver, and various waterfowl including a loon sitting on her eggs.

There are few (if any) opportunities to camp along this portion of the river. We camped on a sandy beach on the north shore of Richards Lake (just before the end of the lake) where a small creak runs into the lake. This is probably one of the last campsites you'll see for a while because from this point on, you're on the river. It was quite a nice campsite with a marsh behind it and fresh caribou/moose tracks on the beach. The night was live with the sound of frogs and bugs. While crossing Richards Lake we caught a 4 lb pike.

The trees in this area are primarily feeble looking black spruce. We had some trouble finding a tree into which to hoist our pack (for bear purposes).

The next days travel is a lot of work. At least it was with the water level we had. We had the notes of a previous tripper who had done the river in spring run off, it took him three hours to do a portion of the river that took us six. The day was especially tough due to rain that moved in at about 11:00 am (just about the time we set off) and lasted until about 7:00 in the evening. The bugs on the narrow river were very bad with both of us wearing bug nets for most of the day, gloves (bug proof) would be good, socks (bug proof) would be good. If any part of you is revealed, the
bugs will get you!

This portion of the river has many blow downs. Some have been cleared out, some cut through. We cut through some that stood in the way of what would otherwise have been an obviously good run. Many we simply took a run at and tried to cross without having to leave the canoe and drag. Usually, we had to get out and drag anyway. The current is swift here. Between blow downs there are small rapids that could have been run in higher water and although we could run some, we ended up dragging over the majority of them.

Higher water would have made the rapids easier to run, but a faster current could have made the blow downs more dangerous. The river twists and turns. Often the blow down obstacle is just around a sharp bend in the river, or in/after a set of rapids. With the current as we had it, this was no problem, but with a swifter current you could be within the blow down almost before you could react.

Count on one day of rough going to get through this section. As mentioned previously, it took us six hours. We camped at one of the first obvious campsites we could see... high on rock cliffs above a chute. It was a bit of a hike getting our gear up, but it was the nicest campsite we had seen that day. If we had gone on, there was another nice campsite about an hour down the river, and others not far after. Most of these were on rocks, above falls, chutes or on portages.

The only type of tree in this area was (still) stunted black spruce. We found it very difficult to haul our packs into one of these trees , and some creativity was necessary to get our packs off the ground.

Rapids (1 day)

The chute above which we camped seemed to mark a change in the river. We camped above the chute for two more days due to almost solid rain and cold (with frost). We're still not sure whether the nature of the river changed, or whether the rain changed the river for us. The rain had increased the water level by approximately eight to ten inches. From this point on, there were progressively fewer blow downs, and the rapids became more and more runnable. Within an hour of leaving the campsite, we found we did not have to do any dragging at all.

There is no better way to describe this portion of the river than to say that if you want runnable white water, this is the place to be. We paddled for approximately nine hours that day, and it's safe to say that five or six of those were through some degree of white water or swifts.

The river presents one set of rapids, then meanders a bit with a nice current but no rapids, presents another set of rapids, meanders... and so on. It gets wider as you go along and soon you're far enough away from shore to get away from bugs. The rapids get progressively more difficult as you near the Kanatotik rapids. There is a lovely 3 to 4 km set of rapids/swifts about an hour above the Kanatotik rapids that were indicated by only one hatch mark on our top map.

By the time we reached the Kanatotik rapids, they seemed to be a natural (although technically more difficult) progression from what we had already run. The river here is shallow and bouldery with class 2 to 3 rapids. We would run a set of rapids, pause in an eddy, bail out the canoe, scout ahead from the canoe and off we'd go. This scenario was repeated over and over. Here we benefited from the rain that had stopped us for a couple of days. Judging from the vegetation at the side of the river, the water level here appeared to be a foot higher than it had been prior to the rain. We were able to run all of these rapids. If necessary, portaging, dragging or lining are possible along the shore.

There were numerous camping possibilities in this portion of the river. Often by rapids, chutes or on portages around them. Although there were no particularly good campsites right in the Kanatotik rapids, camping there would enable you to spend more time 'playing' in the rapids. We ran through them so quickly that we were disappointed to be done.

After the Kanatotik rapids there are small rapids and swifts that are all runnable. Nice campsites begin to get a bit scarce and we camped on a gravely bank, an hour or so after the rapids. We were hoping that by staying out of the woods we could avoid the worst of the bugs - but they found us. The worst bugs yet! The next morning we broke camp without breakfast, just to get onto the river and away from the bugs. In a way we were fortunate we got on the river so early, it provided us with the opportunity to see both a bear and a moose out for their early morning rounds.

The river continues to offer small rapids, waterfalls, and chutes at less frequent intervals from here to Bear Island. The waterfalls we portaged (look out in particular for one 10 foot waterfall hidden within a set of rapids). Later we encountered a chute over where we portaged our gear and then ran. All in all a very entertaining section of the river.

Blackbear Island (.5 day)

As you near Blackbear Island, you see portions of an old burn area. Quite desolate.

At Blackbear Island the river splits into a very distinct left and right branch. The top of the right branch is a 10 to 15 foot falls. There is a campsite on the rocks far above the falls but it's quite a hike from the river. If you want to stay at this campsite, you are more or less committed to taking the right branch of the river. Taking the right branch means that you will have to do a half mile portage around the falls. Although we were told about this portage, we walked this area and did not see an obvious portage trail.

Partly to avoid the portage, and partly to explore a part of the river about which we had no information, we chose the left branch. To get to the left branch, you can either run the rapids above the falls and ferry across to the left side of the river (again could be strongly influenced by water levels), or you can take the river to the far left (it splits a bit here) and if necessary, drag, line, carry canoe until you feel safe in the left branch. The river is quite wide, if you try to run the rapids and ferry to the left and fail... you could go over the falls!

On the left branch, after the obvious small rapids that are visible from the split in the river, there is another small set just around the bend that we managed to 'squeak' through (but may have to be dragged over). Below this second set there is a channel through the island that connects the right and left branch. One could avoid the portage and use the channel to get to the right branch. We stayed on the left branch.

From this point on, count on at least a couple of hours of lining, dragging and lift overs, with some runnable rapids in between. The top map shows one hatch mark here. This is totally unrepresentative of what to expect. From the notes of a previous tripper, the right branch appears to be about the same... a lot of work.

There are potential campsites at various places on the rocks at the side of the river. These are possibly the best campsites you'll see for the remainder of the trip. Avoid the tendency to push through the 'tough stuff’ before you find a campsite. By the time you're through, there won't be any campsites that compare. Certainly if you're near the end of a day, camp in this area.

Both sides of the river at the top part of the island are a burn area. Again, very desolate. Not much growing here but blueberries. Desolate, but very interesting in its own way.

After a couple of hours of lining, dragging and lift overs, you are more or less through with rapids for the rest of the river.

Lower River (1.5 days)

I'm going to refer to the section from below the rapids & falls around Blackbear Island, to the split where the river branches to the left for the first time above the delta as the lower portion of the river. Count on at least one good solid day of paddling to do this portion. It took us longer.

We didn't camp in the rocky area at the south portion of Bear Island. We elected to continue on our way. It was raining (again). After the 'hard work' portion, the left branch continues around the island as a fairly narrow, fairly slow flowing river. Trees branch over it in a cathedral effect. Quite pretty in all. We paddled through this portion for at least another hour before the two branches joined again.

Once the branches join after Blackbear Island, the river is quite wide with a steady current. The current isn't very noticeable until you stop paddling and realize that you are still drifting along at a good pace. For this portion of the river we only had a 1:250,000 top map. It was very misleading. There were a lot of meanders in the river and it took a good deal longer to cover any distance than we estimated.

The notes of the previous tripper indicated a very swift current in this area that enabled him to cover 30 miles (maybe km?) in one afternoon. With the water conditions that we encountered, it took much longer.

We paddled for another couple of hours that day, looking for a good campsite. There are not many in this portion of the river. We passed three islands of various sizes, and camped on the northern tip of the third. We seemed to have camped on some sort of beaver throughway - loud tail splashing late at night indicated their displeasure to find us there.

Still referring to the notes of a previous tripper, we felt that having done about three hours of this portion of the river the day before, we should be within a half day paddle of James Bay. Wrong. We had a full days' paddle ahead of us even to reach the split in the river. Again, the top map was misleading, what looked like 10 km was obviously much more by the time you count in the meanders of the river.

All in all it could have been a very pleasant portion of the river to paddle. Steady current, a few shallow swifts... but we were impatient to get to James Bay, and were disappointed at our progress. We saw lots of waterfowl in this portion of the river. We also scared up what we think was a bear judging from the loud 'crashing' through the woods as it ran away.

After about seven hours of paddling, we finally came to the split in the river. Slightly confused by how long it took us to do this part of the river, and not sure how much longer it would take to get to the Bay, we started looking for campsites. Again, not many camping choices here. We passed a cleared out area with a table and frames for canvas tents. We stopped there but felt too much as if we were trespassing (also the bugs were terrible!). We camped a little further down the river in another small cleared out area. There was garbage at the site and lots of bugs, but we didn't think we'd find anything better. If you are near the end of the day, try camping somewhere around the split in the river, perhaps at the split itself. The closer to James Bay you get, the fewer camping possibilities there are. Do not expect to be able to camp on the shores of the Bay. To do so would involve dragging the canoe through reeds to find ground that may (or may not) be solid ground, and may (or may not) be influenced by tides. All in all, not an appealing option.

Marsh/James Bay/Moose River (1 day)

Very soon after the split, the nature of the river begins to change. More and more willows crowd the banks. You see less and less trees. The current is still quite swift. The river begins to split as it enters the delta. We chose the far right channel whenever we had a choice. Our rationale was that the Little Partridge River would come into this branch and give us more water than the other branches.

Within an hour of leaving our campsite, the willows on the banks were giving way to marsh grasses. Soon, marsh was all we could see ahead. The river continued to split, getting shallower with each split. We picked our way from channel to channel, looking for enough water to paddle through, dragging the canoe where necessary. If the Little Partridge ever did come in, we missed it. It may have been in the form of one of many marshes that joined with the marsh we were in. It was on odd feeling not knowing how long the marsh would continue before it led to James Bay. After our difficulty in judging distances the previous day, we were beginning to fear that we might be in for a long day in this marsh wasteland.

We had a strong wind from the north so at least we were always sure of the direction we should be going. The trees in the distance began to take on the look of a mirage.

About two hours after leaving our campsite, about an hour or so after entering the marsh, the grasses parted before us. Huge boulders stood out on the horizon. This was James Bay! It was low tide. As far as the eye could see were shallow mud flats, with boulders strewn about. The strong north wind blew a mist in the air. On the far, far distant shores beyond the delta, trees seemed to float on air. It was something that words cannot adequately describe.

We had planned to camp on the shore of the Bay to study the tides (we had no tide tables - suggestion - get tide tables). We realized very quickly that there was no possibility of camping here. We began to wade, pulling our canoe, looking for deeper water. Fortunately the 'mud' flats were firm enough to make wading possible. A small but very distinct line of water rippled towards shore. The tide was just beginning to come in. Suffice to say that the tidal flats of James Bay should only be attempted at moderate to high tide. We dragged the canoe out until the water level (assisted by the incoming tide) made it possible to paddle.

Now is a good time to mention that the Ministry of Natural Resources DOES NOT recommend paddling across any portion of James Bay. They have good reason. After our trip (while waiting for the train at Tidewater Provincial Park), we heard stories of swamped canoes and lost boats (and lives) on the Bay. It may be possible to be picked up by float plane or freighter canoe from the mouth of the river.

For us, it was very tough going across the Bay. We had a strong north wind and an incoming tide that we had to paddle across. There were peninsulas of reeds at times reaching far out from shore. Going through them was difficult, so we had to go out to get around them. We seldom encountered water any deeper than the length of our paddles. This would be a very difficult paddle if the wind was against you, and dangerous if the wind and tide conspire to push you out into the Bay.

If we did this portion of the trip again, with the help of tide tables, we would try to enter the marsh an hour or so before the highest point of the tide. This would provide higher water than we had in the marsh, as well as enough water to paddle the mud flats. You would (hopefully) have enough time to get through the marsh and across the tidal flats to the Moose River before the tide left you parked in mud. Of course, this means you’d be facing the Moose River with an outgoing tide – not a pleasant thought. One could always take a break for a few hours until the tide came back in and ride the incoming tide up the Moose.

One source suggested that we catch the outgoing tide through the marsh and ride it out into the Bay, and then ride the incomming tide back in and up the Moose River, but if you get top maps of this area, you’ll see that the tidal flats go far out from shore. Trying to follow the tide out to find enough water to paddle could be dangerous if the winds (unpredictable at the best of times) turn against you when you’re far from shore.

There’s no clear answer to the best approach here.

If you are interested in seeing James Bay, but as little of it as possible, one possibility for shortening the Bay portion of the trip would be to take left channels through the marsh and thus end up at the west side of the delta (closer to the Moose River). One could take this a step further and consider the possibility of taking the left fork of the Partridge where it split above our last campsite. We have no idea what either of these options would be like through the marsh/delta area.

As is, it took us between two and three hours to reach Amold Point and the mouth of the Moose River. When you turn the point and look south to the Moose, you are very aware of the great width of the river.

We felt our trip was over when we reached this point. It's wasn't . There’s still a long paddle ahead. As soon as the river got a little narrower, we cut across and paddled up the right hand shore (Moosonee lies on the right hand shore). With a strong north wind behind us and an incoming tide, we were able to sail the distance in about 3 hours. An outgoing tide combined with a south wind could make this a miserable paddle.

Tidewater Provincial Park

Tidewater lies between Moosonee and Moose Factory. It's a provincial park with all related luxuries such as running water (cold only) (no showers though). It's been cleared of a lot of brush so the bugs weren't nearly as bad as they were on the river. The camping fee (1992) was $ 12.25 per site per night. Hotel accommodation is usually available in Moosonee but much more expensive.

The Little Bear Train from Moosonee to Cochrane runs two days a week (Wednesday and Friday) and unlike the Polar Bear Express (which runs daily) will carry freight (canoes).

Sky Bicevskis


Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
42 I/8 Kesagami Lake 42 I/9 Glaister Lake 42 I/6 Lyla Lake 42 I/15 Meengan Creek 42 P/1 Thyret Lake 42 P/8 Ship Sands Island 42 P/7 Moosonee
Special Comments: 

It`s possible to start the trip at Upper Kesagami Lake which is directly accessible from hwy 652. Add about 4 to 5 days to your trip if you do this.


Post date: Mon, 12/20/2010 - 12:35


A 'client' for this trip, I had an excellent time. The low water levels were a disappointment as our progress was slowed and many rapids which could have been fun, were instead increasingly dangerous. The students from Laurentian University's Outdoor Adventure Leadership program should be congratulated for a job very well done.

Post date: Thu, 05/15/2008 - 05:28


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Post date: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 22:13


I soloed the Partridge in June '08. Water levels were high but not unrunnable. In fact I think may have been better off with higher water. I didn't encounter anything more daunting than a technical C3. Great fishing on Kesagami Lake, however I was also windbound there for a day. Gotta love the rarity of the portages on this trip, I only logged 6 in total. The bugs were unbelievable, but that's June in the boreal for you.

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


Therefore the Maps Should Read.........

Topo Maps (1:50,000)
42 I/8 Kesagami Lake,
42 I/9 Glaister Lake,
42 I/16 Marberg Creek,
42 I/15 Meengan Creek,
42 P/2 Bushy Island,
42 P/1 Thyret Lake,
42 P/8 Ship Sands Island,
42 P/7 Moosonee

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


Map Corrections;

42 I/6 should read 42 I/16

and one Map 42 P/2 (after 42 P/1 Thyret Lake) is missing from the list but it contains a seemingly large section of the river (atleast 15km or so).