My husband and I each grew up at camp doing many a canoe trip, first as campers & then later as leaders. But those experiences were long ago & far away, our excursions since becoming adults/parents have slowed up something fierce. We typically opt to paddle our lake with a fishing rod or taking a quick portage for a picnic lunch in an inhabited lake just past ours. That is, until now. A global pandemic certainly helps you take stock of time; what you love & what’s important. It was because of this that we decided to take our teenage kids on a “starter” canoe trip and show them how to canoe & how much fun it can be. I have to say, it was one of the best ideas we have ever had.
Starting Point: Ragged Rapids Rd (just after the dam)
Ending Point: Small Landing off the road from Iroquois Cranberry Growers (you can drive to this location for pick up)
Total Distance: 19 km (13km down and 6km back up to the take out)
Duration: 4 days (2 paddling days + 2 rest days)
This route is located near the Muskoka Lake, east of Georgian Bay. The nearest town is Bala.
Maps & Resources
Map: Canada Topographic Map 31 E/4 – Lake Joseph
Campsite Reservations: This route takes place on Ontario Crown Land so campsite reservation / camping permits are not required.
Outfitters & Shuttles
The trip starts and ends at different places and we had a family member drive us to the put-in / pick us up from the take-out. Note that parking in this area is tricky. If you have two cars you could easily do a self-shuttle. The nearest outfitters are Moon River Cottages and Swift Canoe & Kayak.
Note from Mikaela: I’ve done this route too, and we were able to paddle all the way back to Ragged Rapids (thus starting and ending at the same point).
Day 1: Put in at Ragged Rapids Power Dam to Gray Rapids
We were challenged a bit in finding a place we could leave the car so negotiated with my mother-in-law to drop us off and eventually pick us up. There is a potential opportunity to park at the put-in just past the 400 HWY bridge (which was about halfway down from our start and Iroquois Cranberry Growers Rd on the west side). There is a new gas station just recently opened at the edge of Wahta Territory called Wolf Energy that might be open to negotiating parking options eventually.
We picked up the Musquash half way along so there are other put in options coming from Bala.
For us we launched at Ragged Rapids Road.
Getting to Ragged Rapids: Take 400 North to Muskoka Rd 38 towards Bala. Turn North onto Ragged Rapids road and follow the path to signage showing portage & put in. Small parking lot available to unload but not for long-term parking.
Put in just past the dam and enjoy the first wee bit of the trip floating with the force of the river. It’s important to note that water levels can change at any time due to dam activity.
From Ragged Rapids you will follow the river for just over a kilometre. Stay towards the left (there are a few bump-outs before straight ahead you will see a dead end of reeds, or you have the opportunity to turn southward to Dinner Rapids). At the time the water level was enough for the rapids to be light & fun, a great chance for the kids to get familiar with navigating rapids & finding a good line.
We followed the river through Cedar Rapids & Crookery Rapids (both barely rapids at the water level we were on). As we continued along into the larger water, we entered into Wahta Mohawk Territory. Signs were clearly marked that no camping or stopping on land was allowed so we buddied up our canoes and ate lunch for a little relaxing time.
In the afternoon, we continued on towards Big Eddy Hydro Dam. We looked for a take-out on the right side but were unable to find signage or a path. So instead we went to a take-out on the left side, just before the roped-off part of the dam. Here there is a ~300 m portage. It’s a bit craggy and not a long portage but it is down a hill so once we got everyone & everything down we were good to go.
We put in at the base of the dam, ran a small rapid and then came to a larger rapid (which we hand-lined the canoe down that was a bit of a drop and moving too fast for our novice crew) while walking a small amount along the rocks. We then got back in for the rest of the rapids and ran a super fun set of rapids that fed into a calm piece of the Musquash River.
After paddling awhile, we crossed under the HWY 400 bridge, grabbed something we forgot from grandma (there is a landing there that is on the border of Wahta Territory and used for those boat-accessing Gray Lake (entrance is found west of the turnoff at Iroquois Cranberry Growers).
It was an easy paddle to a place that on the map looks like a portage into Gray Lake, but the water was plenty high & running so we had no problem shooting through a set of small rapids there. Gray Lake was a nice paddle and we took out to the left (at the area of land one peninsula back) from the upcoming Gray Falls, which had no signage but obvious tracks & a pretty clear path.
Next we portaged 500 m to the falls campsite, which took about 30 min with our packs and had path tape along the route.
There are numerous campsites along Gray Falls (along the south side and a marked path). The few lower sites that face towards the falls were damp & could potentially end up underwater if the water levels changed, so we stayed high ground enough to be safe if those levels did change.
Campsite: Gray Falls
Day 2: Rest Day at Gray Falls
Set up camp proper, there is plenty of options for a safe distance from each other to camp along the waterline, opportunities to keep the kitchen & cat holes appropriate distances from camp.
We actually went back to the start of the path to the falls and enjoyed some fishing in Gray Lake, where the catches were plentiful and often.
We also did a small exploration further down the river to Flatrock Lake & enjoyed the day swimming & fishing there before returning back up to Gray Falls. Leaving our canoes at the base of the path (near the bottom of the falls) as we challenge fighting the current back up & thought we would explore again the next day.
Day 3: Rest Day at Gray Falls
Had an awesome time foraging for mushrooms (we counted over 30 varieties) and exploring the woods. We got a chance to chat with a number of kayakers/canoers coming back up from Go Home Lake. It was important to note that of those approaching the falls, the ones who were more successful (& likely more skilled) were the ones who paddled towards the falls and then shot around to the side to take out vs the ones that tried to fight the current along the shoreline to the side of the falls. We learned a lot about the best way to approach the falls as the current was our nemesis.
Day 4: Gray Falls to Iroquois Cranberry Farm
We packed up (sure to leave no trace) and portaged back along the path to Gray Lake. The paddle was easy and relaxed until we got to the one set of rapids flowing into Gray Lake. On the map, it looked like a portage / landing but the reality (likely because of water levels) was that they were active rapids. We tried to face into the rapids but didn’t read the line right and ended up dumping. Fortunately, we swam over to an area across from the rapids that were waist deep, dumped the canoe, rung out our clothes and started again. At that point, we felt the current was too strong to try to paddle up so chose to line our canoe and walk the shore till we were far enough ahead of the current to not get dragged back through the rapids.
We paddled back to take out at the HWY 400 bridge, a little sunburned, a little tired but with a LOT of smiles on our faces.
Taking the kids on this trip as their first ever overnight canoe trip was a fantastic decision. They disconnected from their phones, connected with mother nature for four days and enjoyed the absolute beauty of being outside. They learned how to start fires with a flint, how to hoist their food (& why), how to macgyver in nature, and just how to be (without distractions from the outside world). We are already planning numerous canoe trips for this coming year.
What we would do better? Go over the rules of canoeing & how to get out of tricky situations. Our kids have canoed their whole life but doing a trip in the backcountry is an entirely different experience. Make sure they are comfortable with tipping the canoe, gear, safety, paddling review, etc.. should have been a priority.
Jennifer Powell has a big love for adventure. She believes that tomorrow can easily become never. Essentially, if you don’t do it now, then when? Because of this, she & her family of 4 sold their house, put everything in storage to go travel the world. Their goal was simple. To teach the kids to become global citizens; where community, compassion and respect are at the core of their heart and values. With a child with Autism, Jennifer is a huge advocate for helping create awareness and focus on abilities over deficits. Her work as a social media strategist and event producer has provided brands and businesses with award-winning, move-the-needle kind of results in the social media space.