Big East River
Total Distance: 15 km (Two vehicles or shuttle required)
Duration: half day (allow from 2 to 6 hours depending on water levels from Williamsport Bridge to Silver Sands Resort)
Number of Portages: none
Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice (some C1 rapids just after the put-in)
Map is courtesy of Jeff's Map - I have added additional notes to the map.
June of 2022 was hot; spring came early and so did summer. I had already experienced a busy May in terms of canoe tripping, having done three weekend trips in a row. When June came around, I was busy wrapping up the school year and because I had a lot of trips planned over the summer months, I wasn't planning on any overnight trips in June. However, on Friday, June 10th, when I got home from school that evening and saw the wonderful weather forecast for the following day, I was itching to get back out on the water. I batted my eyes and gently coerced my wife to join me on a day paddle for the following day.
Having watched videos of people doing the Meanest Link route, I had always wanted to paddle the Big East River just west of Algonquin. Those giant sand cliffs at Arrowhead Park looked amazing. Furthermore, water levels were still high and I knew that later in the year the Big East would get too low for an enjoyable paddle. All I needed to do to make it happen was to arrange a shuttle. We couldn't take two vehicles because my daughter needed our other canoe-tripping vehicle to go to work that day.
In Kevin Callan's Top 60 Canoe Routes of Ontario book, he listed Silver Sands Tent and Trailer Park as a possible outfitter. I thought, "Why not? Maybe they shuttle canoeists?" So, I gave them a call. After making my request, I gathered it wasn't something they normally did, but when I explained what I wanted to do, they said they would give us a lift up to the Williamsport Bridge in our vehicle and have it waiting for us at their resort next to the river to take out. Amazing!
When we arrived, the owner, Bev, hopped in our vehicle and accompanied us to our put-in. She was incredibly nice and relayed some information to us about the river and the area. Indeed, after our journey, our vehicle was exactly where she showed us it would be. The resort appeared to be well-managed and clean. It had some nice beaches on a very pretty spot in the river under a large cliff on the opposite shore. It could be a possible place to camp if anyone were to make this an overnight trip and continue on to Huntsville the following day. Likewise, it seemed to be a nice place to car camp in the Muskoka area. Camping information can be obtained at: https://www.visitmuskoka.com/silversands.htm
It was a short and easy portage down to the river below the bridge on river-left. There, we took a couple of photos prior to embarking. It was 11:30 AM.
As there weren't any portages on the route, we took our dog Lucie with us this time. Lucie is a lovely, but hyper, little Shih-poo. Because she is little and rather rambunctious, we don't normally take her on canoe trips. But on this occasion, we thought we'd test the waters (pun intended) by taking her and seeing how she would react.
Immediately after putting in, we ran an easy little CI rapid that would be just a swift in lower water conditions. It was a great way to start the trip and get us in the right frame of mind. Lucie seemed a little nervous at first but settled down after a few minutes.
The sandy banks of the river were lush with silver maples and other deciduous trees.
We were enjoying the push of continuous swifts for a solid twenty minutes until we saw our first evidence of glacial delta sand formations on river-left.
The Big East is a provincially-significant river in that it displays amazing examples of sand and gravel deposits left by the meltwater of Lake Algonquin after the last ice age. We saw the largest of these at the Big Bend in Arrowhead Provincial Park just 30 minutes downstream. The sand banks there are 100 feet high.
The bend in the river curls for about 200 degrees and eventually will become an oxbow lake when the river cuts it off. There are numerous oxbow lakes along this section of the Big East.
It was pretty cool paddling under sand bluffs the size of ten-story buildings. Visitors to Arrowhead Provincial Park can view the river from the platform built above the bluffs.
Fifteen minutes past the Big Bend, we spotted a sandbar. There, we decided to get out, have lunch and let Lucie have a run. It was a nice little picnic.
We were making short work of the river in terms of time. Bev had told us that it normally takes paddlers about six hours to get from Williamsport Bridge to her resort, yet we had been on the river only an hour and were nearly at the halfway point. The water was very high and the current was giving us a tremendous boost. So, we took a bit of time just hanging out at that lovely spot on a beautiful day.
Moving downriver, there were a number of sandbars along the way.
The river meandered through a series of switchbacks, and as we moved westward, many cabins and cottages began appearing. By 1:30 PM, we were paddling beneath the busy four-lane Highway 11 with cars flying by above us.
A few minutes past that and we paddled the river under a railroad truss.
For the next half-hour, we paddled next to a road, beneath another bridge, and amongst numerous properties on the river before entering another stretch of wilderness. Fifteen minutes later, we spotted a large cliff ahead and some kids playing in rafts in the river. As we approached the cliff, a large bald eagle spread its wings and soared away from its treetop perch at the cliff's apex.
We paddled around the bend and pulled up on the beach at Silver Sands resort. Our day trip was done.
All in, we were on the river for less than three hours and we certainly weren't rushing; the high water levels had made it easy for us. Albeit short, it was a fantastic and relaxing day on the water. The current made the paddling gentle and there was plenty of water to negotiate the river without scraping or hauling. Lucie had a blast and seemed to really enjoy riding in the canoe. What a great way to spend a lazy Saturday in June.