Little White River: Highway 639 to Little White River Lodge (3 days / 34 km)

A beautiful view of Little White River

This trip report outlines a 3-day paddle down the Little White River. An exciting river filled with many twists and turns, swifts and class I-II rapids depending on the water levels. There is a road that runs closely along portions of the river so many, if not all, of the rapids, can be portaged along the road or by lining the canoes. There were four of us plus an Australian Sheppard named Dutch on this trip and we paddled the Little White River as part of a 10-day trip exploring the Algoma region, Sault St. Marie, Chippewa and Lake Superior. The second part of the trip was car camping along the coast and rock climbing.

Trip Completed: September 2021

Summary

Starting Point: Just north of where the 546 and 639 highways intersect. The turn-off is on the left just before a bridge that crosses the Little White River. Coordinates: 46.6589, -82.81744.

Ending Point: Little White River Lodge on highway 546, Coordinates: 46.56523, -83.01568.

Total Distance: 34 km

Number of days: 3 days

Number of Portages: 1

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

This route is located in the Little White River Provincial Park, a non-operational provincial park located in the Algoma region North of Iron Bridge and Elliot Lake. 

Traditional Territory:

Maps and Resources

Maps: Topographic map on Avenza: 041J07, Iron Bridge

We had the opportunity to drive the road which runs close to the river prior to planning the trip.  We gained a lot of insight into the characteristics of the river which are detailed in this trip report.

Campsite Reservations: N/A – All campsites are first come first serve

Permits: No permits required.

Outfitters & Shuttles 

Outfitter: For this particular trip, we borrowed a friend’s canoe. There is one outfitter in Elliot Lake that would be able to provide a canoe or you could pick up a canoe at an outfitter in the Sudbury area.

Shuttle: We did a self-shuttle for this route, leaving one car at the put-in and one at the take-out.

Trip Report

Day 0: Sudbury

After work, Jon and I drove up to Sudbury to stay at a crown land spot just outside of town. We met up here with Laura, Liam and Dutch (their adventurous Australian Sheppard) around 11 pm. We opted to sleep in the cars since it was raining, that way we wouldn’t have to pack up a wet tent on day 1. I was so excited to get on the river that it was a restless sleep.

Day 1: Put In to Bailey Bridge (3.5 km)

Distance: 3.5km Portage: 0, Time: 2hrs

Today we woke up at 0730 to get an early start to the day. We headed into Sudbury for breakfast and some last-minute groceries before driving up to Elliot Lake. In Eliot Lake, we ate cookies and used a flushing toilet for the last time before the trip. We then drove to our put-in spot along the Little White River, about 45 minutes up Highway 639 from Elliot Lake.

Our put-in spot was just north of the 546/639 intersection (46.6589, -82.81744). The turn-off is located on the left (west side) right before the bridge, a popular camping spot as there were a few trailers around. There is plenty of space to camp here and a beautiful view of the river. We unpacked the cars and packed up our camping gear.

We had a quick lunch of cheese and turkey sandwiches, apples and peanut butter (Liam’s life source). Here we met a local gentleman who was out on his ATV hunting. We chatted about hunting and the river to see if he knew anything of our journey to come. He did mention the water was very low in the river. We said our goodbyes and he drove down the road slightly and attempted to cross the river in his ATV, which was very helpful for us to see how deep the water was. He just barely made it across without his seat going under and came out soaked on the other side.

Laura and I then left Jon and Liam with the canoes (and a beer) and drove the cars to our ending spot which was 38 km down the road where the river and the road separate (46.46711, -83.19019). There is a great spot here to pull off of the road, slightly steep to pull out the canoes but manageable. Canoes can also be taken out slightly further upstream for a less steep exit and portaged to the car. Our round-trip drive time dropping the cars off and back to the patiently waiting Jon and Liam was 1hr 20mins.

We had a gorgeous sunny day to start the trip, launching our canoes at 1700. The river started off through a few swifts. The water was shallow but manageable with a few deeper sections, though soon enough we found ourselves bottomed out in a very shallow rocky section. Laura and Jon hopped into the water and pulled the canoes through the shallow section while Liam and myself sat like princesses in the canoes.

The river continued like this through small swifts and shallow sections where we needed to wade. We then reached a small divide in the river. One direction was a smaller river which looked harder to navigate and the other direction was a sharp turn so we didn’t know what lay on the other side. Laura pulled out her GPS to see if we could figure out what the optimal route would be. Jon and I stayed behind a little while Laura and Liam checked out the river beyond the sharp bend. We then heard the call that all was good and we followed them in the same direction.

After a small swift, we were soon met with a small rapid which I would classify somewhere between a strong swift and a class one. There were no major obstacles in the way so Jon and I started navigating our way down the rapid, successfully avoiding rocks. In the distance, I could see Laura and Liam who appeared to be stopped right at the bottom of the rapid.  We were too far away to tell exactly what they were doing but something looked off. I alerted Jon to the situation and we proceeded with caution, keeping a keen eye on our escape routes. As we approached closer we could tell Laura and Liam were standing in the water and signalling us to get over to river right. Jon and I took a right turn out of the rapid and beached our canoe on a small gravel island which is only visible in low waters. We secured our canoe and jumped out to help Laura and Liam with their predicament. 

They had already righted their canoe and brought it over to the small gravel island by the time Jon and I had jumped out to help. From the looks of it, all of the bags had managed to stay inside the canoe without being strapped down. We quickly started emptying the canoe of all its belonging to dump the water out. It was a beautiful warm day so the swim in the fresh river was welcome. We then got the full story. At the very end of the rapid, there is a sharp but manageable turn, however, a small stick was pointing out at shoulder level and clipped Laura’s shoulder on the way by causing her to lean the other way at the same time Liam drew his paddle resulting in the flip.

Laura, Liam and Dutch fell out of the canoe, the water was very shallow so they were able to stand up roughly at waist height and quickly gather any loose belongings that fell out. Thankfully everyone came out unharmed other than a ripped shirt and small scratches.

After we emptied the canoe we came to a sad realization that the Garmin In-Reach GPS was swept away by the river. We had taken it out of its case to help us navigate the divide in the river and hadn’t re-secured it properly. We spent the next hour and a half searching the river and its surroundings to see if we would be able to locate the GPS, lifting rocks and logs to no avail. It was starting to get dark so we came up with plan B.

Laura’s mum was expecting a message from us to let her know we were safe at camp for the night. We needed to get back within cell service range. We travelled 3.5 km down the river already so our options were to drag and paddle our canoes back upstream or continue to paddle downstream for half a kilometre to Bailey Bridge where we could take out the canoes and walk back to the car along the road. As it was starting to get dark we decided to continue to Bailey Bridge as this may be a faster route and we could start setting up camp. 

The take-out at the bridge was steep but manageable. We sent Jon to run the 2km back to the car along the road while the rest of us got all of our belongings up the steep take-out. Once the car arrived, Laura and Liam headed into town to get cell service and let her Mum know we were safe and sound, we just no longer had the GPS. Jon and I set up camp on a nice spot, river left, just downstream from Bailey Bridge. We laid out all of the wet equipment in an attempt to dry a little overnight. Laura and Liam got back around 2000 and we enjoyed a dinner of pork, potatoes and veggies. 

Day 2: Bailey Bridge to Little White River Lodge (30 km)

Distance: 30km Portage: 2.5km x1, Time: 9hrs

This morning we woke up at 0700 to get organized and start our long day. We fueled up on pancakes and coffee before repacking all of the wet clothes and equipment. The night was cold with lots of dew so nothing dried overnight. The car was left parked on a small inlet on the side of the road near where we camped.

We launched our canoes into the small swift just in front of the campsite. The river continued similar to yesterday, very windy with shallow spots which you needed to get out and wade and precisely navigate the strong swifts/small rapids. We then stopped on a gravel outcrop for a lunch of pita, salami and cheese. These small gravel outcrops lined sections of the river however they would not be visible in higher water.

We got to fuel our bodies and relax/dry equipment in the sun while we mentally prepared for our upcoming portages. A previous trip report had indicated there may be 6 short portages around a series of rapids however with low water levels we were unsure of what to expect.

After lunch, we passed a house on river right at a bend in the river and we were surprised to find a lawn chair in the middle of the rapid 100m downstream of the house. We then came to the section where the Boland River and the Little White River meet. The Little White River seemed to get considerably deeper after this intersection. We then paddled roughly another 6km past the Boland River and were met with rapids and a small weather station on river right (across the road is a cabin). This indicates the start of the portages.

The portages along the river are not maintained or marked so it was a choose your own adventure. The road follows the river at this point and there was a clear path to take out the canoes beside the small weather station. We started our portage each carrying one pack and paddles and we would return for the food barrel and canoe.

We had expected a short portage however when we started walking we quickly realized with the low water none of the rapids were navigable and the very short calm sections between rapids were not worth the hassle of reloading the canoes through the bushes. There was only one obvious spot that would have been easy to launch the canoes from, other than this section, much of the bank was riddled with thick bushes.

We continued to push on along the road. We reached about 1.5km and decided to go back to get our second trip to leapfrog up the road until we could enter the river again. This felt like the portage that would never end. Having mentally prepared for a series of short portages when we were reaching km 2 with no end in sight, we were quickly losing steam. In the end, instead of doing multiple portages, we did one very long one of 2.5 km which was double carried.

The portage ends about 200m down the road past the bridge. Just as the road starts to bend there is an obvious entrance for the river. Here would also be a good camp spot. The total portage took about 2 hours and we covered 7.5km and by 1700 we were back on the river. We quickly came to the realization that this section of the river was going to be a little more difficult. We were encountering more strong swifts with many large boulders and rocky bottoms.

Careful navigation was required and we soon reached a large un-runnable rapid littered with large sharp rocks. Since the embankment was steep and we had already done a 2.5km portage we opted to line the canoes down the rapid. If needed you could hike up and reach the road to portage. Lining was manageable but very slow going; there were fewer rocks along the sides and a steeper embankment meant we were wading through the shallow slippery water along the side of the river. The rocks were VERY slippery which meant all of us at one point or another ended up on our butts.

We finally reached the main rapid section which we would have run if the water was a few inches higher. We know how detrimental it can be to crack a canoe mid-trip especially since we had canoes made of fibreglass and Kevlar mix. We climbed a steep section and jumped across boulders to get our canoe to the other side of a very large boulder where a calm eddy was waiting. I had the lovely experience of having to use the washroom urgently mid rapid, my stomach was still adjusting to camp life. It always seems to happen at the most inconvenient times. I clawed my way up the steep embankment as much as I could holding onto any large tree that would support me.  Feeling much better afterwards, we seamlessly made it to the calm eddy and reloaded our canoe. 

The next adventure was travelling down the very last section of the class 1 rapid.  There were a few visible boulders however an easy line was visible. All of us made it down safe and sound. It was getting late and we were all extremely tired. We had only covered a few kilometres in the last hour, so our next mission was to find a campsite for the night.

We had noted the non-operational Little White River Lodge was not far, and we were all wet and cold and it was starting to get dark. About a kilometre before the lodge we encountered another small rapid with many boulders that we navigated through. Just when Jon and I thought we were in the clear, a large invisible boulder stopped us with a loud crack….a canoeist’s worst nightmare.

Water wasn’t entering the canoe and the lodge was very close so we carefully walked the canoe through the last swift to the lodge. At this point it was dusk and we were desperate for a campsite especially knowing the damage to our canoe was going to need some attention. The very kind owners of the property allowed us to camp on their lawn and use the fire pit, we were definitely not the first trippers who had washed up on their doorstep.

We were very appreciative of their hospitality, otherwise, we would have found ourselves paddling back upstream for 1km to a small gravel site on river right (not possible in high water). We quickly all changed into warm dry clothes, set up camp and started dinner of mac and cheese with refried beans. Jon and I then went to assess the damage to our canoe. We were sad to find the crack ran 6 inches in length and was cracked down to all but the last layer just barely keeping water out of our canoe. Currently, the canoe was still in a reparable state and knowing what the shallow waters of the river were like, it wasn’t a far-fetched idea that the next small bump would leave us sinking. Our four tired souls crawled into bed after enjoying a short bonfire, ready to brainstorm what our escape plan would be in the morning.

 Day 3: Little White River Lodge (10 km)

Distance: 0km Portage: 0 Time: 1h 50m

When the boys finally crawled out of bed at 0830, Laura and I had breakfast made and we all enjoyed coffee and oats. We had cars parked at either end of our journey. Along the winding river, we were about 20km from the car downstream and 40km away from the car upstream. However, going along the road, we were exactly halfway between the cars. We decided our best option was to stick together and walk the 19km downstream along the road to retrieve the car. The owners were nice enough to let us leave our canoes and packs stashed by the river while we started our hike.

The road was winding and beautiful, all the fall colours were coming out, which made for a very scenic hike. We passed Endikai Lake, cliffs, more rapids and shallow waters (confirming that we had made a good decision).  About 10km down the road, a car with an older couple pulled over and asked us where Endikai Lake was and were curious about why we were walking along the road. We explained our canoe predicament and they said that when they first got married a similar situation happened to them and a nice person picked them up off the road and drove them to their car. They were wondering if they could do the same for us. We were very grateful for their kindness and accepted their offer. Once we got the car and drove back to collect the second car from our starting point, we returned to collect the canoes. We had lunch along the river to decide what the next adventure would be. 

We weren’t quite ready to leave the river yet and it was supposed to rain all through the night and the following day, so we decided to find the nice campsite we had read about at Endikai Lake to set up basecamp. We drove down Endikai Lake road and found the campsite. When you drive down the road you will quickly reach a small bridge, the turn-off for the campsite is on the left directly before this bridge.

We got out and assessed the campsite which was large and open, you could easily fit 5 tents, with nice small steps down to the river. We then started to set up camp. Unfortunately, there were no good places to set up a tarp between trees so we strung it up between the two cars which worked very efficiently. We laid out all of our wet clothes and equipment, some of which were still drying from the canoe dump on the first day.

Trying to dry everything out became the theme of the trip. We then took a quick drive into Elliot Lake to get a few groceries and gas. On our drive back to the campsite it started to rain so we raced back to pack up our clothes and equipment which was now wet (again). We huddled under the tarp sitting on our chairs cooking dinner. As I was getting the stove started (MSR Whisperlite) the pressure wasn’t holding in the fuel container so we had to do a quick stove maintenance session. Soon enough we had dinner of pasta with fajita seasoning and precooked chicken, delicious!

We sat huddled under the tarp playing card games as the rain was relentless. At 2300 there was a break in the rain and we decided to make a break for the tents. Jon and I hopped into our and tent and were surprised to find ourselves sitting on a water bed! Thankfully the inside of the tent was dry but we didn’t know if that would last. I would definitely not be getting much sleep tonight knowing that we may wake up to a river inside of our tent. We decided to sleep in the car and efficiently moved everything. Soon enough we were warm, dry and cozy inside of our sleeping bags as the storm outside peacefully lulled us to sleep.

Reflection

As with any great adventure, there are many things to take away from the experience. I can appreciate the importance of having everything in dry sacks or waterproof bags as we spent much of the trip trying to dry out our equipment. As a shift worker with a busy schedule, I definitely don’t do stove maintenance as often as I intend to and I realized the importance of it on this trip. We were lucky it was an easy fix. We also saw the importance of a good tarp setup, we were able to catch the rainwater off the tarp to fill a bucket for dishes and drinking without leaving the comfort of our nice dry chairs. 

On every adventure you are faced with adversities and every up and down is part of the experience. I like to say it builds character. We definitely made a good decision to exit the river when we did rather than risking our canoe cracking further. The river diverged away from the road past the Little White River Lodge so there is no easy escape. I would definitely recommend having a proper whitewater canoe or good repair kit. We were very careful in our navigation and still managed a crack. 

Another must-see is the Chippewa Waterfall/River which is the halfway mark of Canada. Right by the river, there is the Chippewa Restaurant and Store, a family-owned place with a welcoming cozy atmosphere and great breakfast food! 

We all absolutely loved our time on the Little White River and were disappointed when it was cut short by 2 days. We are all excited to go back and finish the rest of the Little White River down to the Mississagi River and into Iron Bridge. Definitely keep your eye out for the future trip report!

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Author Bio 

Trip report written by Stephanie Rider

I grew up on an island in Muskoka, spending days canoeing, hiking, swimming and exploring. I have enjoyed canoe tripping my whole life and am an avid outdoor enthusiast. My passion for the environment leaves me with the motto to not only follow leave no trace principles but to also leave nature a little bit cleaner then when I found it. Through my trips I hope to highlight this point and help educate others on sustainable outdoor etiquette. I love writing about my adventures and hope to provide insights, inspire and encourage others to explore nature. 

Trip blog: https://trippingandtequila.wordpress.com/ 

Instagram: @stephrider

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