Spanish River - Duke Lake to the Elbow

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Additional Route Information
90 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
2285 m
Longest Portage: 
1600 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Hwy 144 between Sudbury and Timmins - access road to Duke Lake
South through Duke Lake
South through Tenth Lake
South through Ninth Lake
South through Eighth Lake
South through Seventh Lake
South through Sixth Lake
South through Fifth Lake
South through Fourth Lake
South through Third Lake
South through Second Lake
P 50 m L or run swift
South through First Lake
P 1600 m around Scenic Rapids (or negotiate with combination of running/lining)
(Note : first 1200 m is supposedly ok to run, remainder should be lined)
South through Expanse Lake
South on Spanish River
P 220 m R around rapids
P 200 m R around rapids or CBR
Take chute on right at train bridge (Shehan)
Past Pogamasing
South on Spanish River
South through Spanish Lake
P 230 m R aound Zig-Zag Rapids (or CBR)
South on Spanish River to The Elbow
Road access from The Elbow to Hwy 144 north of Sudbury

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

See the trip log for Spanish River - Duke Lake to Agnew Lake

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 P/5 Westree 41 P/4 Low Water Lake 41 I/13 Pogamasing 41 I/12 Cartier
Other Maps: 
Chrismar Adventure Series - Spanish River


Post date: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 22:03


Our family vacationed at agnew beginning in 1963 or 1964 when lloyd & velma polden ran the lodge, baked homemade bread and you may remember the old lodge with the bear, all the antlers and beer around the fireplace. We would fly in and stay at an a-frame on some lake further north that a bear had torn up. This summer we're taking back all 5 grandchildren, our son and 2 daughters with husbands & wife. I remember a trapper's cabin at the log boom we used to picnic at. Would that be where you stayed? I have a few old pictures, memorabilia and remember our time there fondly. We're returning in june. Have you been back in recent years? Sandy

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


I have canoed the Spanish River canoe route several times now with a variety of canoeing companions, usually starting at Duke Lake and ending at the Elbow.
Duke Lake can be accessed along the road from Sudbury to Timmins. I had one of my more spectacular camping experiences at Duke Lake. I set up my tent, preparing to start out in the morning. I was alone that trip. Well, I never got in that tent. The northern lights were so unbelievably spectacular that night that I parked myself in my sleeping bag on the beach and fell asleep staring at the sky, having experienced the purest state of awe so far in this lifetime.
You have to be a bit careful canoeing the Spanish River. It's important to choose your canoe carefully. There was a rental company in Sudbury that always made you promise that you weren't going anywhere near the Spanish River before they would consider renting you a canoe. They had aluminium ones, which is a pretty good material for a canoe, pretty durable and light, which is important if you decide to portage. Although aluminium kind of sticks to rocks, a bit like velcro in fact, if you do put a good dent in it, you can always straighten the canoe out again by kicking it or, if the need is great, by jumping up and down it while it's in the water. I've done that a few times.
One time, a friend and I made a terrible mistake: we used a fibreglass canoe which Ed, the friend, had borrowed from a neighbour. On the first day out we hit a rock, which left a sizeable hole in the canoe. There's no give in fibreglass, it just cracks and breaks. We stuffed the hole the best we could, but we were pretty nervous and careful the rest of the trip. A lot of this route, a canoeist is quite a few miles - through the woods - to the nearest road or railway track, let alone any semblance of civilization.
As we know it.
But it is beautiful. After Duke Lake, you go through ten small lakes named in order, remarkably enough, Tenth through First Lakes. Each of these lakes empties out through narrows, which is often where the best camp sites can be found.
The last lake is Expanse. Just after it is a set of rapids.
But, speaking of rapids, the Spanish River canoe route is really very different, depending upon the time of the year. It is probably better to canoe the route earlier in the year, in May or June, say. Then you benefit from the run-off. The water is deep and fast. You are less likely to scrape rocks along the bottom of your canoe. On the other hand, you have to know how to deal with fast water. One trip, canoeing alone again, I decided to pull up to shore. But I wasn't paying attention to the speed of the current, rammed up against the branches of a tree that overhung the river, and overturned the canoe. It all happened so fast. It took me a couple of miles, after I had righted and emptied the canoe, to recover my paddles. Needless to say, I felt kind of stupid. You pay for these errors: drying out clothes and camping gear is part of the price.
If you canoe the river in August, on the other hand, it will seem like you hit or scrape along every rock in the river. In fact, sometimes you will have to get out of the canoe and line it downstream as you walk along the shore, the water being too shallow for you to be part of the weight in the canoe.
From Duke Lake to the Elbow, it's a nice five day trip. You don't work too hard, and have plenty of time in the evening to set up camp. And there are a lot of excellent camp sites. These are usually clean too. Most canoeists understand that one of the things that make canoeing pleasurable is the pristine beauty of an unspoiled wilderness. The goal is to leave no evidence behind that you have ever even been there, with the possible exception of a small pile of firewood.
After Expanse Lake, and you've covered about half of the trip if you are stopping at the Elbow, you hit the Spanish River itself. After a couple of days on the river, you come to the Spanish Lake. There is an impressive set of rapids at the end of the lake. You can portage at that point, but I never have. As you get closer to the rapids, you begin to hear the roar of the lake emptying out at that point. It gets quite loud, and it's quite daunting. You get to a point of no return, however, where it is impossible to fight the current and you are drawn into a wild ride that lasts about a mile.
I have watched a partner completely submerged in water as the front of the canoe dove down into the water, only to rise again aimed now at the sky. That results in another problem: once you've got water in the bottom of your canoe, it becomes quite unstable. If the current tilts you one way, all of the water rushes in that direction and it becomes very hard to keep from capsizing. But the exhilaration! And the focus: believe me, when you are in rapids your mind is on one thing alone, and that is survival.
I can't swim. And I am probably not a very good canoeist. I started doing it because I lived in a trapper's cabin for part of a summer. It happened to be on the Spanish Lake. I would sit on the shore of the river and occasionally I would see canoeists. And you know: they all had the same look. Calmness. Happiness. Both. I don't know, but it was a unique look. For everything else there is MasterCard but that look was priceless. So I decided to take up canoeing.

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


During the period 1953 to 1962 I worked as a guide
at Agnew Lake Lodge and made many trips down the
Spanish River. We used ti refer to the area previously
described as "The Wall" as the "Little Graveyards" and
ran the narrow shute on the right side to avoid portaging
if we were lightly loaded.

We regularly ran outboard powered boats (needed a 10 hp)
to get up the Cedar Rapids)from Agnew Lake to above
the Cedar Rapids. The former owner of Agnew Lake
Lodge even made the canoe run from Bisc to Agnew Lake
in about 1.5 days by running a lot of the river at