Spanish River – West Branch: Sinker Creek to Agnew Lake (5 days / 130 km)

The Spanish River is a beautiful river west of Sudbury with two branches: east and west. The west branch features stunning forests on ancient bedrock, exciting white water, and beautiful campsites. A scenic train ride brings you to your input along the river where you’ll enjoy class 1-3 white water that has been traveled by first nations for thousands of years. This river has clearly marked and well-traveled portages with plenty of wildlife to watch for. 

Trip Completed: September 2020

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Sinker Creek 

Ending Point: Agnew Lake 

Total Distance: ~130km 

Duration: 5 days 

Difficulty: Intermediate 

Location

This route takes place in Spanish River Provincial Park and moves south toward Agnew Lake. The nearest town is Sudbury.

Traditional Territory: This route takes place in the traditional territory of the Mississauga, Anishinabewaki and Michif Piyii (Métis) (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: None

Map: Chrismar Adventure Map – Spanish River

Campsite Reservations: No campsite reservations are needed.

Permits: You must book an interior camping permit. You go do so through the Ontario Parks Reservation System (select “Backcountry Reservation” on the far right).

Outfitters & Shuttles

The put-in is a train stop called Sinker on the VIA Rail Line. You can take the train with your canoe and gear to the put-in.

Angew Lake Lodge provides parking at the endpoint and a shuttle service for a fee, however I did not use their shuttle service.  

Trip Report

Day 1: Sinker Creek to Upper Athlone Rapids (22 km)

Trip began with a rainy morning train ride to Sinker Creek. This quickly connects to the Spanish River.

Within 1 km you’ll encounter a small rapid and swift followed by the much bigger Hook Rapids. Hook requires two portages to pass, and both portages are 100 m in length.

Following the first portages of your journey, you’ll encounter Tourville Rapid – a fun and short set with an optional portage on river right (130 m). The river widens to Lebell Lake before you encounter Lebell Rapid.

This was another fun, short set before the more challenging Breander Rapid and Breadner Falls. Breadner Rapid is runnable but requires a quick exit to a 150 m portage on river left before the falls. Immediately following Breadner is C3 rapid and should be run with caution. This area is difficult to scout due to a bend in the river and I portaged the 390 m trek on river left.

Once through the rapids, your journey meanders to the aptly named ‘Inch Worm’. This portion of the river travels ‘as the crow flies’ in endless turns and bends. This beautiful section featured views of heron, otter, and a variety of tree species. Soon after you’ll reach the Forks, where the east and west branch of the river meet. Approximately 5 km downriver was my first campsite at Upper Athlone Rapids. Despite the late season of my trip, the campsites in this region were full. The weather for this day was rainy and cold, so a group allowed me to camp with them for some much needed warmth and rest rather than paddle another 3+ km to a different site. 

Campsite: Upper Athlone Rapids – Beautiful well treed site above a set of rapids that gives a wonderful lullaby while you fall asleep. This area has multiple campsites in a small stretch however heavy tree cover provides privacy from neighbours. 

Day 2: Upper Athlone to Mogo Creek (30 km)

After a delicious breakfast, it was time to conquer Athlone Rapids. This section is exceptionally enjoyable with long sets and plenty of swifts to follow. Both Upper and Lower Athlone rapids are runnable but optional portages can be found on river right, 400 m and 450 m respectively. Following Athlone, the remainder of the day is full of fast-moving swifts and Class I rapids. All are runnable with no portages in site until Cliff Rapids.

Cliff Rapids is easily runnable however there is an optional portage on river right, which is no more than 50m in length.

Campsite: Just before Mogo Creek – This site was a majestic island with great tent sites (flat, cushioned with ample tree coverage to protect from the elements) with perfectly placed trees to hang clothing lines. A fire pit had already been constructed. 

Day 3: Mogo Creek to Agnes Rapid (25 km)

After leaving the island paradise, you’ll encounter the occasional swift for approximately 7 km. The first set of the day is my favourite of the trip called Zig Zag Rapids. There is a 240 m portage on river right however the bends provide an enjoyable technical challenge to a fun set. Following Zig Zag you’ll find plenty of swifts and class 1 rapids that are easily runnable with no portages for approx. 10+ km.

This brings you to The Graveyard Set. This area is a string of 4 rapids with portages at each set. Little Graveyard was easily scouted with a 400 m portage on river left. This set is runnable and leads you to a small rapid right above Big Graveyard. Big Graveyard is runnable but for my own comfort, I used the 100 m portage on river right.

Big Graveyard is followed by The Cascades. Paddlers, be warned! This cascade is a large ledge that comes up quickly. After missing the portage on river left, I almost went down accidentally. Some quick maneuvering allowed me to eddy out on river right and line down the ledge. After some retro-thought, river right is easy to line but the eddy out is risky to reach.

Following this close call, I proceeded to Agnes Rapid. Agnes was difficult to scout so I took the 130 m portage on river left. At the end of this portage, I decided to camp. 

Campsite: Agnes Rapid – Beautiful site with a beach just below a ledge. Firewood is plentiful in this area however the campsite is at the exit of the portage. Some foot traffic is to be expected. The area to pitch your tent is uncovered by trees and offers beautiful views of the sky, however no protection from the elements. 

Day 4: Agnes Rapid to Agnew Lake Entrance (44 km) 

Another day of rain began the largest day of travel on the trip. A swift guides you into the last rapid of the trip; Cedar Rapids. This section is an easy Class I rapid with no portages around. This concludes the whitewater portion of the trip, as the river begins to widen. From here you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the passing scenery. As this is a fast-moving river, progress is made quickly – even with some headwinds. The camp was made at the last campsite before Agnew Lake.

Campsite: Agnew Lake Entrance – this is the last campsite before the end of your journey. To get to the site, you must bring your boat and gear up a steep shore. Once up, the site boasts flat tent sites and a small table someone put together using scrap wood. The area is riddled with history, evidenced by the old logging wires and stakes driven into the rock. The view of the lake is stunning, and the perfect place to sit and enjoy your last night.

Day 5: Agnew Lake Entrance to Agnew Lake Lodge (7 km)

Despite the short distance, this may be the hardest day of paddling. This open flatwater lake is the perfect vessel for carrying harsh winds. I stuck very close to the shoreline and cut across only when the island on the left no longer could protect me. Upon arriving back at Lake Agnew I loaded up my gear, paid my parking fees, and daydreamed of the shower I would take upon reaching home. 

Reflections

The Spanish river was the perfect river to start my solo camping career. The west branch is the harder of the two branches, but for any whitewater enthusiast I highly recommend it. The train ride is a memorable way to start and the rapids will not disappoint. I used a map from Chrismar Adventure Maps and could not recommend it enough. In addition to showing campsites, rapids, and portages it also gives intriguing history and information regarding the region and wildlife.

Gallery


Author Bio

My name is Kris and I am an avid backcountry enthusiast. I have been canoeing for 15 years and enjoying white water for 10. This was my first trip solo and the maiden voyage for my canoe, Lebell – aptly named after a rapid on this trip.

Responses