Trip Reports

Bill and Ann’s ELF Petawawa Adventure: Labour Day Weekend

Bill and Ann’s ELF Petawawa Adventurepet1

The plan was for four days on the Petawawa over Labour Day weekend from Lake Travers to McManus. Early in the week came the email, “Pet soooo loooow... :(“. From the graph for the river gauge, sure enough. It was lower than when Ann and I did it last year. But, a call to Becky Mason reassured me. She said the river had never been too low to travel on. You had a couple of options, step out of the boat and walk beside it or bring a pole to pole the canoe along.

Well the river was low and we blazed a trail of red vinyl as we went down the river but we only portaged the canoe at Crooked Chute. Pretty much a mandatory portage. It was a fantastic solo trip for Ann and I, but I missed my paddling partners of old, Scott, Jaclin, Isabelle, and Brian to name but a few.





Up at 6 and on our way by 7:30. It is about 3 hours from Kanata to Lake Travers, not counting the time it takes to drop a shuttle vehicle off at McManus. We were on the water by noon. Paddle across Lake Travers and down the river a bit and you come to the first rapid, Big Thompson. A short scout and it was decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of running it. It was way too shallow. We walked beside the boat and floated it over the first couple of ledges and then hopped in for a short ride to finish off the rapid.

Next up is Little Thompson Rapids. The river was low enough that you could easily see the “gouge rock” on the ride hand side. Again, we floated the canoes down the left and hopped in for the final piece. Still a tricky move, getting the boat between two rock outcroppings.

I don’t even remember Grillade. After you pass Little Thompson, the gradient picks ups and you are being carried towards Crooked Chute. I am sure we left some paint along the way but nothing to worry about. There are 3 take out opportunities for Crooked Chute. I’ve always used the last one. At high water it is exciting as you MUST make that last eddy. At low water it is exciting because the river is so shallow it pushes you far out to the left when you really, I mean really want to be on river right by the bank. At this level if you run the river all the way you will find yourself in the middle or river left by the time you come to the third take out and must somehow get your boat way right with no water to maneuver in. I chose to ground out the boat just before take out and float/drag the boat over the gravel bar to get to the right hand side.

The campsite at the third take out for Crooked Chute is nice but well used. However it is very noisy due to the rapids. More importantly, it is infested with mice. Last year, two got in the barrel. One I got out, the other had a pleasant night snacking away on gorp and other delectables. Sorry Ann, I should have listened to you.

We portaged the whole of Crooked Chute. You can put your boat in after the initial ledges but the river just flattens out into a river wide gravel bar at this water level.  Last year we plowed through two waves, taking on so much water that we were a submarine and ended up just running aground – to the amusement of about 20 indigenous hunters.

The portage trail is easy. Besides, there are two logs across the off shoot trail where you have to carry the boat over and then under the other log. We finished portaging around 6 o’clock and camped on the left hand campsite at the bottom. It makes for a full day, getting to the bottom of Crooked Chute but so worthwhile when you do not have to start the next day with that portage.


Up at 7 and on the water by 9:30. At 7 am you couldn’t even see the water for the mist. The next major rapid is Rollaway. At high water it is a blast. At this water level it was iffy. I was 50/50 because the water level was so low you could easily get hung up on rocks. We portaged our gear ¾ of the way down and scouted the river on the way back. There was a way through but you had to dodge the rocks. It required class III maneuvering but without the class III consequences. We start middle, headed to the right and after the huge rock on river left, we headed left. We did an amazing clean run and ended up eddying out on the right just below where we had dropped our packs.

The next intimidating rapid is the start of the Natch. We portaged the main gear, scouted it and ran it. We started hard right but aimed left to just get around the main boulder. Past the main boulder we ran the split between two main rocks on the right side. A little less paint and we were through. We got to the Natch at about 12:30. Unfortunately the main campsite was occupied. We took the campsite just upstream from it. This is a smaller campsite but offers better shade, nicer cooking area and the best swimming and water access (rock ledges right on the shore). The tent site is however in a low spot…

It rained that night, the same as it did last year on this trip. This is when we discovered that I had forgotten that the tent floor leaked and I had meant to throw the tent out. Nothing serious but things were wet the next morning.

Day 3

Up at 7 and on the water by 9:30. There are no significant rapids in this section but there is lots of potential for running aground – or over rocks. We floated down everything and only had to get out and push in a couple of areas. At places, there were no clear paths so you did your best and ran over the occasional rock. By noon we were at our target campsite. It is the site that is high up on the left river bank on the section between Whitson and Smith Lake. It is a great spot because you catch the afternoon and evening sun there – unlike the campsites on the west shores of Whitson Lake. Also, the wind comes whipping down which is great for drying off all that wet gear. Fortunately for us, the wind was at our backs as we paddled down.

Day 4

Up at 7 and on the water by 9:30. I think we had a rhythm. By 11:30 we were at the take out.

Unlike last year there was no wind, only on and off again drizzle. Last year, the wind was strong and in our face. That made for a long paddle out.


You can make it a 3 day trip. If you get an early start from the Natch you can get down to McManus Lake by late mid-day. You could also skip camping at the Natch at camp further down, say along 5 Mile Rapids. On 5 mile, the camp sites don’t get the afternoon sun, but there is a campsite on the eastern side at the very end of 5 Mile Rapids.