Lower Madawaska River: Paddler Co-op to Griffith (4 days / 37 km)

This trip is a quintessential canoe trip. The Madawaska River has easy access, fun whitewater, and beautiful sites. You can do this trip any time spring through fall. In the spring the bugs can be heinous and look out for poison ivy in the summer. In the springtime, the water is much higher and better suited for more experienced paddlers. As flows drop in late spring/summer, this trip is really well suited for novice paddlers and children.

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Paddler Co-op

Ending Point: Griffith Bridge/Picnic area

Total Distance: 37 km

Duration: 4 days

Difficulty: Beginner

Note from Mikaela: Although part of the same river, don’t confuse Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park with Upper Madawaska River Provincial Park. The Upper Madawaska is a challenging Class III river that should only be paddled by experienced canoeists. The Lower Madawaska is much easier and great for novice whitewater canoeists.

Location

This section of the Madawaska River flows through a non-operating provincial park called Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park. As such, it’s up to those passing through to keep sites and portages clean. There are no required permits and sites are first-come-first-served.

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of the Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin) and Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Madawaska & Opeongo River Whitewater Guide, published by Friends of Algonquin Park

Maps: 31 F/5 18T (#1), 31 F/3 18T (#2), 31 F/6 18T (#3)

Outfitters & Shuttles

We used our own gear and set our own shuttle, however there are many options for outfitters and shuttles. The Paddler Co-op, Madawaska River Rentals, and Greater Madawaska Canoe Rentals all offer outfitting and shuttle services.

Trip Report

Day 1: Paddler’s Coop to Aumond Bay (15 km)

This day is mostly flatwater with some small (Class 1/swifts) rapids. Aumond Rapids is one of the first, distinguished by a nice island to scout from and eat lunch at. The higher the water is, the shorter this day will be.

Aumond Bay is distinguished by a big sweeping right-hand turn, and the bay itself is on the left-hand side. Aumond Bay is also an alternate put-in, and using it would shorten the trip by a day. We camped on the river left site just after Aumond Bay. 

Campsite: Aumond Bay

Day 2: Aumond Bay to Rifle Chute (6 km)

Today started with about 3 km of flatwater, after which the action starts. The first rapid is called Island Rapid, which you can scout from the river right-hand side. This is someone’s property so please stick to the trail to maintain access.

About 200-300m downstream is the Dog Leg, which you can usually scout from your boat, however there’s also a rough trail down the left side if you’d like a more thorough look.

Around the corner from the end of the Dog Leg is The Narrows. There’s a great campsite here on the river left side, but the best scouting location is on the right side.

The next rapid is Exam Time (the guidebook says that it’s the test before you get to Rifle Chute) – scout from the left side as needed.

The last rapid of our day was Rifle Chute, which can be scouted and portaged on the left side. Watch out for poison ivy here! There are great campsites just after this rapid on the left and right, my personal favourite is the left one.

Campsite: Rifle Chute

Day 3: Rifle Chute to Crooked Rapids (8 km)

This day started off with Split Rock, where you can go left or right depending on the water levels (if levels are low, go right).

There’s another short rapid right after Split Rock called Post Split Rock with a large rock in the centre, so be mindful of that as you run Split Rock because any flipped canoes are at risk of wrapping on it. At high water levels, another rapid develops downstream of Split Rock before the river widens significantly, and it can be scouted on the left.

After the river widens, start working over to the left side. A large rapid called Raquette is coming up, and it’s easier to approach from the left. As you paddle around the many little islands, look for the large island in the centre of the river. It’s the best place to scout and portage (if needed) from. Most people paddle down the left channel, as the right one has some rebar in it. As a heads up, there’s a sharp rock (called Can Opener) at the bottom of the right side of the left channel that can dish out serious damage.

Shortly after Raquette there’s another small rapid, and then a stretch of flatwater. When you see a ladder hanging from some trees on the left side, you’ve reached Buck Bay (another access point). You can take-out here, or continue on!

After Buck Bay, there’s more flatwater, and then Slate Falls. You can portage on either side and watch out for poison ivy! There’s a short flatwater paddle and then Crooked Rapids. We stuck to the left side and camped on the site that’s halfway down the rapid and up a hill. There are a few other sites here as well.

Campsite: Crooked Rapids

Day 4: Crooked Chute to Griffith Bridge (8 km)

First off you paddle down the rest of Crooked Rapids. After this there are few more short and relatively straightforward rapids. The final rapid of note is Hyland Falls, which is a series of ledges. You can scout and portage on the river left side — watch out for poison ivy!!! It grows abundantly here. After Hyland Falls, keep your eyes out for a bridge across the river, that’s the takeout. Takeout river left at the picnic stop.

Reflections

This is an awesome trip. Easy access, fun whitewater, and beautiful sites make for a wonderful time. This trip’s itinerary is very relaxed and would suit beginner paddlers well. Keep a keen eye out for poison ivy in late spring and summertime, as you will see lots. 

Author Bio

Gregory Nettleton is a whitewater canoe guide and instructor from Toronto, Ontario. He’s been guiding and instructing for over 7 years. He splits his free time by paddling some more, skiing, taking pictures and reading anything he can get his hands on. You can find him on Instagram at @greg.nett.